Nova Scotia

Dalhousie students 'angry' at 3 per cent tuition hike as university moves to online courses

Most of the province's post-secondary institutions are expected to increase tuition fees for the coming school year, despite the fact most courses will be taught online next fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other Nova Scotia universities also raising tuition or contemplating increases

Entrance sign to Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University in Halifax is raising tuition by three per cent in the fall. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Students who plan to attend Nova Scotia's largest university, Dalhousie, have learned they will pay three per cent more in tuition next year, a prospect one student leader says has many of them "angry and frustrated."

Erica Seelemann, vice-president academic and external for the Dalhousie Student Union, said the fact courses will be taught online next fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic makes an unacceptable situation even worse.

"Students have said that without access to the facilities, without access to the resources that they're used to they don't want to pay the same tuition," she said. "They don't have the same learning experience, so they shouldn't have to pay the same fees."

She called the increase "a poor decision."

Dalhousie justified the move in an email to faculty, obtained by CBC News.

"Annual tuition increases are necessary to maintain the high quality of our academic programming — this was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and is even more apparent today as we work to ensure your academic experience this fall is delivered to the highest standards," said Deep Saini, president and vice-chancellor at Dalhousie.

"Given the investments needed in student support and online instruction, as well as to help manage the significant financial impacts of this current pandemic, Dalhousie will be implementing the full 3% increase for this upcoming year."

Erica Seelemann is vice-president academic and external for the Dalhousie Student Union. (Photos Unlimited)

The student union recently conducted an online survey to determine the level of satisfaction with online learning. Seelemann said students did not give the initiative high marks.

"Ninety per cent of students said no, that they think that remote learning is worth less than on-campus learning and they don't feel like they should have to pay the same amount of money for it," she said.

Nova Scotia's only French language university, Université Sainte-Anne, has announced it will also hike tuition by three per cent for the coming academic year.

Other universities

Other universities are still working on their budgets and have not formally ratified increases, although many expect they will need to make up revenue shortfalls and spending increases due to the pandemic, which forced a closure of campuses across the province in March.

"It is likely that tuition will increase but that decision is being discussed now in various college committees and nothing will be final until our board meeting on June 18," University of King's College spokesperson Alison Delorey said in an email to CBC News.

Acadia University spokesperson Sherri Turner said a decision on tuition rates will come later this spring, but she noted the institution was grappling with significant financial issues.

"Work is underway to analyze and evaluate the financial impact the pandemic has had and will continue to have on the university," she said in a email. "Since Acadia will not receive our usual spring and summer income, financial sustainability is dependent on continued efforts to contain expenses in the immediate short term.

"To date, we have curtailed all non-essential spending until further notice and launched a review of Acadia's more complex structural costs."

Cape Breton University spokesperson Lenore Parsley said in an email the school is reviewing fees and "working through the 2020/2021 budget process in light of the new, and significant challenges presented by COVID-19." 

St. Francis Xavier University's board of directors approved a three per cent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year in February.

Meanwhile, Seelemann, who starts her masters program in physiology and biophysics at Dalhousie, is worried about restrictions that might be in place this fall.

"My program is very practical based," she said. "I have a lot of techniques that I need to learn to be able to conduct the experiments I was planning on doing, and if I don't have access to my lab I can't learn these practical skills and I may have to re-evaluate the timeline of my degree."