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Letter: N.L. government using domestic tuition freeze as election plank

MUN campus and clock tower — Memorial University photo
MUN campus and clock tower — Memorial University photo

The near 20-year domestic tuition freeze at Memorial University owes its life to results at the ballet box. It exists for the same reason that there is no provincial sales tax in Alberta and minimal gun regulations in the United States. No government seeking re-election will allow itself to be tarred with imposing increases or restrictions on the voting public and so an illogical status quo reigns for all three.

Imagine what bread, tooth paste and automobiles cost the consumer in 1999 and look at their prices now. Gasoline prices in 2001, the year when Memorial’s tuition was adjusted downward by the Grimes administration, was 79.1 cents; in May 2018 it hovers around $1.40.

Yet a year of general post-secondary education in this province remains where it was at the start of the millennium, under $2,600, making it a sacred cow, immune from market pressures.

Consider, too, the eroding power of this tuition paid, these 2018 dollars are 35 per cent less effective because of inflation. To catch up, tuition for two semesters at Memorial would have to be raised by $750-$850. Imagine the uproar.

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Consider, as well, that there is a Catch 22 implicit in government cuts. Raising tuition costs to this province’s students will result in more punitive action, i.e. cuts from the provincial government. This takes away all incentive for Memorial to grow its fiscal pie from its in-province enrollment.

Tuition overall at Memorial offers rock-bottom pricing. Raising tuition by 50 per cent does not motivate Newfoundland students or those from other Canadian provinces to go elsewhere. Post-secondary education here is still a huge bargain. In fact, it is never a good idea to undervalue your product.

There are other considerations.

The fairness factor: increases should be seen to be balanced not placed squarely on the shoulders of international students.

Educational and plant standards: if academic quality falls and infrastructure becomes Third World, who will choose Memorial?

Natural downward pressures on enrollment: as fewer students inhabit our school system, how can Memorial’s enrolment be maintained? Recruitment of out of province/country students have and will continue to be key. Instead of entrenchment, the university should add law, bilingual content courses and degrees, all of which would attract national funding and excellence.

Beyond in-fighting and cuts, the provincial government needs to attack the real enemies, equalization rules and the Muskrat drain.

If aging demographics and inclusion of non-renewable resource revenues hamper our ability to provide services, more relief must be sought under equalization.

If Ottawa can intervene to help an Alberta pipeline under the principle of national interest, prevail upon it to prop up the implementation of our hydro megaproject for the good of all Canadians.

First up, raise the artificially low domestic tuition prices at Memorial. Aim for efficiencies and cap programs where employment opportunities are saturated. Offer more fresh new programming for the 21st century, so that we can catch up with other universities in Canada.

Marie-Beth Wright

St. John’s

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