Tuition fee freeze focus of campus rally in St. John's

Memorial University students and student interest groups held a rally Thursday afternoon to support affordable post-secondary education.
Students gathered near residences at Memorial University Thursday. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Memorial University students held a rally Thursday afternoon to support affordable post-secondary education, putting pressure on politicians to reverse spending cuts in post-secondary education.

The students, led by representatives from the province's chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students and the Memorial University Students' Union, rallied outside residences on the university's main campus in St. John's.

The event was one of 15 across Newfoundland and Labrador working to persuade the provincial parties to restore funding to post-secondary education and to maintain the tuition freeze in the upcoming election. The freeze was introduced in 1999.

In July, Memorial University's Board of Regents voted to increase international graduate tuition by 30 per cent, beginning in 2016. 

Memorial University student Marley Kingston speaks during a tuition freeze rally on Thursday. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

The board also approved a $600,000 increase in tuition for the medicine program, effective September 2016.

These increases were made in response to cuts of more than $20 million in operational funding from the provincial government.

Brittany Lennox, executive director of student life with the MUN Students' Union, says that the tuition freeze brought her from Ontario to study at Memorial. 

She says that affordable education is key to a strong economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Student Marley Kingston has also made her home in the province due to the freeze and wants to see funding to Memorial restored. 

Won't sit idly by

CFS-NL chairperson Travis Perry says that although the province's post-secondary education remains the most affordable in country, the cuts in post-secondary funding and tuition increases are unacceptable.

He says students will not sit idly by following the cuts.

The Canadian Federation of Students is encouraging students to vote in the upcoming election and support those parties that commit to affordable education.   

All three provincial party leaders have previously expressed support for upholding the tuition freeze.

Liberal leader Dwight Ball said he would maintain a freeze for students from this province, but would consider increasing tuition for other Canadian students. Paul Davis and the Progressive Conservatives support the freeze, suggesting to find efficiencies and savings elsewhere.

The New Democrats' Earle McCurdy also expressed support for upholding the freeze.

Metro St. John's-area NDP candidates Gerry Rogers, Sean Panting, and Alison Coffin all attended the rally. There were no representatives from the Liberal or PC parties present.

University: fees will still be low

In a statement Thursday, Memorial University says that tuition rates will still be among the lowest in the country. 

After the increase, international graduate fees will be about 26 per cent of the national average (outside of Quebec), while domestic graduate fees and medical student fees will be about 50 per cent of the national average. 

Memorial's Board of Regents has yet to vote on an increase for student residence fees, but the board did pass a motion that student residence fees should fully fund operational costs. 

It has yet to be determined what the rate of increase needs to be.

The board will vote on residence rates in an upcoming meeting.  

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About the Author

Lukas Wall

CBC News

Lukas Wall is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.