Nova Scotia

NDP promises free NSCC tuition starting this fall if they form government

NDP Leader Gary Burrill promises free tuition for all Nova Scotia Community College students and a 10 per cent tuition cut at universities.

Free tuition for all NSCC students would cost $30M a year, says NDP

The NDP is also promising a 10 per cent reduction in university tuition over the next four years at a cost of $9.5 million each year. (CBC)

An NDP government would provide free tuition for all Nova Scotia Community College students starting this September, party Leader Gary Burrill said Friday at a campaign announcement at the school's Dartmouth campus.

The $30-million annual commitment would mean free schooling for 11,000 full-time students and 11,000 part-time students at NSCC campuses across Nova Scotia, regardless of which province the students come from. 
 
The NDP is also promising a 10 per cent reduction in university tuition over the next four years, which it says will cost the government $9.5 million a year.

"For us, this is not a matter of one thing on a list of things, this is absolutely core to the viability of our province — that we open up the doors of opportunity to a generation who have largely had them shut," Burrill told reporters.

Students in debt

Burrill has said the NDP is willing to run budget deficits to pay for its promises if the party forms government following the May 30 provincial election.

He said the Liberals balanced the books, but partly at the expense of students who finish their post-secondary education with large student-loan debts.

"So instead of the government carrying a debt, we have the young people of the province weighed down from the start of their lives," he said.

Bedford Liberal candidate Kelly Regan, who is the minister of advanced education, disagreed with that assessment.

"We've actually been putting more and more money back into student assistance and we actually have loan forgiveness for our provincial student loans," she said.

At the end of the day, a student can get back more than $30,000 in free grants and loans."

Debt statistics

The average debt Nova Scotia post-secondary students carry upon graduation is tied with New Brunswick's as the highest in the country at $39,600, according to Statistics Canada data from 2010, the last year for which that data was collected.

Burrill was less clear about how to pay for the presumed spike in enrolment that would follow free tuition at NSCC. The party's $30-million proposal only accounts for current levels of enrolment at the school.

"If we have the wonderful fortune that our young people line up in large numbers to improve their qualifications, certifications and skills, the government of Nova Scotia would be over the moon to be able to continue this investment for them," he said.

Cutting administration

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said Thursday he would reduce tuition to the national average, in part through administration cuts.

However, David Wheeler, a former Cape Breton University president and current Halifax Armdale NDP candidate, said Friday that's "not feasible."

"There's always room for improvements in efficiency, to be honest — and I speak from direct experience here," he said. "Most of those cuts have already been done. So it's a good thing to say but it's not the full answer."

David Wheeler is the former president of Cape Breton University and current Halifax Armdale NDP candidate. (CBC)

Wheeler said he agrees that there must be a change in the way universities operate in order to make them an asset for the province, but it's a fundamental shift that would have to happen over five to 10 years.

"But that's easier said than done. And I think what we have to think here is that there's a broader agenda, there's a much more fundamental shift required in how we set these institutions up for success in the long term."

Nova Scotia full-time undergraduate students pay some of the highest tuition in the country, an average of $7,218 in 2016-17, according to Statistics Canada. The cost is second only to Ontario, where undergraduate full-time students pay an average of $8,114.

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