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Memorial University’s grant reduced, tuition offset increased

Renata Lang is director of external affairs for the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union.
Renata Lang is director of external affairs for the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union. - Kenn Oliver

Review of post-secondary public education system on the way

Of the more than $2 billion the province will spend on education in this year’s budget, nearly a quarter will be channelled toward the post-secondary system.

Within that, Memorial University — excluding the faculty of medicine — will receive an operating grant of just under $310 million, with the government again reminding taxpayers that it is the highest public contribution as a percentage of a university’s general operating revenues of any university in Canada.

It’s a $9.1-million reduction from last year’s operating budget, but Al Hawkins, the minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour, says the figure isn’t taking MUN administration by surprise.

“Those discussion have been ongoing, so they’re aware of that and trying to work it within their operating budget,” Hawkins told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s no different than departments within core government. All of us have had to work through this challenging fiscal situation we’re in and we’re trying to do the best we can with the operating dollars that we have.”

MUN president Gary Kachanoski says with the tuition freeze grant increased by $4 million, the actual cut amounts to closer to $5 million.
After last year’s budget day cut of $13 million, Kachanoski says, MUN’s multi-year budget — only set in 2016 — had to be redone and in doing so they came up with the $5-million figure.
“The good part about it is, we always plan with whatever information we have for as long a period as we can because the longer we can plan or predict, the more we can optimize the solution to minimize the impact to students, maximize the delivery of our mandate and our programs, and have better chances of finding the time to find the reduction,” he says.
“Really the boundary conditions we have are what we had last year, which helps a lot because not having to re-do a whole bunch of tough conversations last May is great.”

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) says it is disappointed with the cut and the lack of funding for the College of the North Atlantic (CNA), which the CFS suggests has resulted in programs losing accreditation. This year’s CNA operating budget is $87.6 million and its tuition offset is $1.1 million.
“We see a lot of Band-Aid solutions, but there’s no real investment in post-secondary education, which can have long-term detrimental effects to the future of our province,” said Sofia Descalzi, president of the province’s CFS chapter.

Renata Lang, director of external affairs for the MUN students’ union (MUNSU), says a $4-million “re-investment” is a start, but doesn’t address the $30 million in previous cuts, including those last year that resulted in an increase in fees for all students and tuition increases for international and out-of-province students.

“With this current budget, there’s no promise of maintaining that, so we fear those might go up again,” says Lang.

“We’re very worried about that because there’s nothing articulated in explicit protection for tuition for those who aren’t from Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Post-secondary review

The government is also committing to an independent review of the public post-secondary system, similar to what was done for the K-12 system, to explore how the Newfoundland and Labrador system compares to other jurisdictions and make recommendations on how to achieve better outcomes more cost effectively.

The last time such a review took place was in 2004-05.

“This review will help ensure our institutions are well-positioned to meet the needs of students well into the future, address emerging labour market demands, and continue to contribute to the province’s economic growth,” Finance Minister Tom Osborne said in his budget speech.

The terms of reference have not been set, and neither has the cost of the review, but Hawkins said it will examine other jurisdictions and “look at how our post-secondary public institutions fit within the province, how they fit within the future, how they fit within providing the services and skill sets that will be necessary in the labour market.”

Kachanoski says MUN will participate enthusiastically, just as it did 14 years ago in helping to shape the terms of reference, and it is something the government should do in a regular cycle.

“We believe that review will clearly show Memorial’s extraordinary value to the province in every aspect of social, cultural and economic development,” Kachanoski said. “We actually think given the constraint in our budget over the last eight or nine years and our choices of investing into priority areas both in infrastructure and programs and those kinds of things will mean that the review will clearly show that investment is likely needed and warranted, particularly on the infrastructure side, in order for us to continue to play that role.”

The CFS-NL supports the idea of a review, but says students must be at the table.
“We have been left out of really important conversations at the administrative and provincial level and it’s time that the only organization that represents every single public post-secondary student in the province is at those tables making sure that students’ voices are heard and taken seriously,” Descalzi said.

In terms in post-secondary infrastructure funding in 2018-19, $36.3 million has been allocated for MUN’s new core science building, animal rescue centre and continued redevelopment of the Battery facility.

Another $15 million is being earmarked for the continued construction of the CNA’s heavy equipment centre in Stephenville and upgrades to the school’s Centre for Energy and Thermal Systems.

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

Skills development

The province will spend more than $21 million on skills development and training programs, with employment and training programs accounting for $13.1 million, another $6.1 million for youth-focused employment and career-related activities, and $1.3 million to bolster the apprenticeship system.

The government is also introducing $194,000 for a new student mentorship program to support career development opportunities in agriculture, aquaculture, oil and gas, and technology.

“The program, which is supported by federal funding, will provide 25 youth with work experience in each of these targeted sectors, for a total 100 jobs,” Osborne said in his speech.

This province is also contributing $69,000 to the Atlantic Workforce Partnership Secretariat — valued at $230,000 between the four provinces — which will be established in Newfoundland for a three-year term.

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