Post-secondary stakeholders in Nova Scotia seek financial aid
Open letter signed by 17 officials from unions, student group seeks various supports
A coalition of unions and a group representing students, staff and faculty at Nova Scotia's universities and community colleges is looking for increased financial support from the federal and provincial governments amid COVID-19.
An open letter by the coalition highlights the fear that COVID-19 could cause catastrophic outcomes for universities. The groups are asking for no staff cuts, lower tuition and increased financial aid for students.
The letter is signed by 17 officials from organizations including the Canadian Federation of Students and various faculty and public sector unions.
Scott Stewart, president of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers, said a loss of international students this fall could have a huge impact on the bottom line for universities.
Cape Breton University, where Stewart teaches, had an international student population of 65 per cent last year.
With tight border restrictions and flights grounded around the world, Stewart worries what the outcome will be once students return this fall.
"We run the risk of some huge deficits for the coming year," he said.
"We're asking the federal government to consider universities, as they have considered other businesses, and provide money during the pandemic to keep us afloat."
The letter said students face added financial pressure because "Many students will not be able to secure sufficient savings though summer jobs and federal income supports. Many of their families will also be under increased financial constraints."
Stewart said this would be a "one-time ask" for this fall semester, saying even though the federal government has provided money to help students, many will have access to fewer finances.
A letter to faculty at Cape Breton University this week suggested the university could have a $45-million shortfall.
Gordon MacInnis, vice-president of finance and operations at CBU, said enrolment for September opens June 1.
He said he worries about how operations will cope if there is a large drop in enrolment.
"In the absence of additional revenue from public sector supports, that's going to put tremendous pressure on the operating costs of every university in the country," MacInnis said.
Stewart said universities are asking for no layoffs in the higher-education sector.
"The federal government has already committed to helping businesses by contributing a large percentage of employee salaries during this pandemic," he said. "We urge that this policy be extended to universities and colleges."
MacInnis said the university is doing all it can to avoid layoffs of full-time faculty and staff for as long as possible.
"That's the harsh reality of it. We're having discussions with how we can cut costs in our operating budget," he said.
The Department of Labour and Advanced Education did not provide comment by deadline.