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LETTER: Memorial University on the edge of a precipice

Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus.
Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus. - Kenn Oliver

In response to budget crises over the past few years, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has imposed budget cuts to the university to the tune of $38.2 million — that’s without taking into account attrition, infrastructure funding or research funding support.

The university has done its best to handle the cuts by working to make positive change via increased efficiency and collaboration among units. Over the past five years we have imposed steep cuts to administrative, academic and capital budget lines across the institution.

We have taken all the cuts we can absorb. We can take no more.

In the fall of 2019, graduate enrolment at Memorial University topped 4,000, with about 40 per cent of students coming from outside of Canada. This historic growth is great news for the university and our researchers for many reasons. But it is even better news for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

To put it into perspective, the number of graduate students is equivalent to seven per cent of the population of the entire province within the age range of 25 to 35 years old — a population that has declined by 21 per cent since 2000.

It is estimated that each student who comes to this province contributes over $21,000 a year in direct spending and up to twice that if indirect benefits are included. Beyond their profound economic impact, the social and cultural diversity that these students bring to our communities is immeasurable. And, the demand for our programs is increasing; the School of Graduate Studies processed over 7,000 applications in 2018-2019 (an increase of over 30 per cent from the year before) and we are up 10 per cent again this year over last year.

So, why do students choose to come to Memorial University for their graduate work? The growing demand for Memorial’s graduate programs is a decade-long trend and a direct result of our reputation as leader in graduate education. Our distinguished faculty supervisors, research excellence and exceptional student services all contribute to making Memorial one of the most desirable places in the world to pursue a graduate degree. Tuition, although a consideration, is not cited as the No. 1 factor for graduate students in choosing to come to MUN.

These things that make MUN a preferred choice for graduate work are seriously at risk with the drastic provincial budget cuts the university has faced over the past few years and rumours of further deep cuts this year and next. One faculty member lamented that, given the state of our buildings, it was “unconscionable” to accept new students and place them into available office space or, even worse, offer them no space at all. Reduced services, crumbling infrastructure and no support for new and innovative academic programs contribute to a demoralized faculty and staff and an inevitable decline in our existing programs. We are in danger of losing our best faculty and staff, which will have the direct impact of losing our best students.

Students want to come here. The province needs the influx of people, talent, and ideas.

Funding the university appropriately is an absolute imperative to secure the future sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Aimée Surprenant,
associate vice-president (Academic) and dean, School of Graduate Studies

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