As enrolment dips, Liberals call for financial aid for P.E.I. post-secondary institutions
‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic, possibly a second wave coming’
The opposition Liberals are calling on the province to provide increased funding to UPEI and Holland College to ensure tuition isn't increased and programs are not cut.
Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald says government should tap into an $8-million education contingency fund set up by the province to help the post-secondary institutions through the pandemic.
"We're in the middle of a pandemic, possibly a second wave coming. We have international students that want to come to Prince Edward Island. The economy is struggling, they are part of that rejuvenation and rebuilding that economy. We are hearing very little from this minister in terms of definite plans," MacDonald said in the P.E.I. Legislature on Wednesday.
"How much funding are you prepared to allocate to ensure continuity to post-secondary education in a way that programs are not cut and tuition is not raised."
'No reason for me not to be confident'
Education Minister Brad Trivers confirmed enrolment of first year students is down about 15 per cent this year, mainly international students and mainly at Holland College.
But Trivers said the majority of Holland College's international students — about 80 per cent — are still in the province.
About 55 per cent of UPEI's international students are in the province, he said.
Trivers said the opposition is simply trying to stoke fears. He said he's confident the upcoming school year will be successful for all of P.E.I.'s post-secondary institutions.
"The reason I'm confident is because I'm working with these post-secondary institutions and I know they are being supported and there is no reason for me not to be confident," said Trivers.
"I'm not sure where the member is going with all this but they are responding very well to this pandemic and it is challenging and yes there is a decrease in students that are applying for student loans and yes we are going to have a small decrease in enrolment."
'Continue to re-evaluate our fiscal health'
Budgets for UPEI and Holland College were increased by two per cent in the 2020 budget.
Trivers said neither institution has asked for additional funding out of the contingency fund.
Holland College has already announced it is suspending five programs to "minimize the financial impact" of the pandemic.
In total, 29 employees will be affected by the changes. Four have been laid off, and 25 others will have their hours reduced, or contract start dates delayed or adjusted.
UPEI said registrations for its fall classes are similar to last year and the university's numbers were actually up for the summer semester.
"We continue to re-evaluate our fiscal health and have a number of budgetary measures that we can put in place should the need arise," the university said in a statement to CBC News.
Trivers said the province is prepared to spend "what it takes to make sure our post-secondary institutions are supported and we have a successful school year this year."
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