ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. (CUP) — As the Canadian Federation of Students prepared to protest the Newfoundland and Labrador government Mar. 15, the student lobby group got exactly the announcement it wanted. In a surprise meeting that morning, Minister of Education Tom Hedderson and Premier Danny Williams said they will freeze tuition at all post-secondary institutions in the province for the rest of the government’s term.
While the CFS is pleased the government kept its campaign promise, others are concerned over the future of Memorial University of Newfoundland. “In a lot of ways, they couldn’t not make this decision. It’s a very good decision for the province; it makes sense economically and socially,” said Jessica Magalios, provincial chair of the CFS. But the head of Memorial’s political science department, Stephen Wolinetz, said the tuition freeze could present trouble for the university’s budget. “The tuition freeze squeezes the university budget in ways in which every unit in the university is finding it extraordinarily hard to operate, (with) no wiggle room because most of the budget is salaries,” he said.
Wolinetz was involved with the Memorial senate’s submission to the province’s white paper on post-secondary education, a document evaluating the state of the post-secondary system in Newfoundland and Labrador. “None of us who were involved with the white paper necessarily asked for a tuition increase — what we did ask for was funding comparable to that being received by universities in Atlantic Canada,” he said.
The tuition freeze was announced despite the unreleased results of the white paper, which Williams said largely recommended a tuition increase. Memorial president Axel Meisen has no objection to the tuition freeze, provided the university is properly funded. But the university’s board of regents has the final say on setting tuition fees, as well as approving extra fees for certain programs such as pharmacy. “What the government has said is that it will provide the university with the money to keep tuition constant. It will be up to the regents to set the tuition fees at the normal rate,” said Meisen.
Magalios said news of the tuition freeze was a surprise, considering the tone of the meeting she had with Hedderson Mar. 11. “We had very serious reason to believe that the budget was not going to contain good things for students — that, in fact, we shouldn’t expect a tuition fee freeze. (Hedderson) didn’t say that, but that was the impression we got,” she said.
Hedderson said the decision to freeze tuition was made over the past few weeks during the budget consultations. “This is something that we were looking at as a budget announcement, but the premier spoke with me and indicated, ‘Why should we keep this in suspense? The decision was made,'” he said.
“We see it as an opportunity to afford the students of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Canadian students the opportunity to have an affordable and accessible post-secondary education that also has equality attached to it.”