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The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the cracks in our post-secondary education system into craters, leaving Newfoundland’s most vulnerable students to pick up the pieces. Despite this tremendous challenge, students from Canada’s most eastern province are demanding change. Students have expressed concerns about access to mental health supports and services as many are isolated from family or friends. Students are struggling to afford their education along with rent and bills that are increasing due to the demands of learning from home. Many students are dealing with unreliable technology, crowded living arrangements, and food insecurity. And this is just the beginning of the list.
We know these concerns are not new. In recent years, the provincial government has cut approximately $40 million of Memorial University’s operating budget and eliminated over $10 million in annual deferred maintenance funding. We’ve also seen our government and institutions putting the burden on the backs of students by increasing tuition and widening the gap between Newfoundland and Labrador students and out-of-province and international students with exorbitant differential fees. In 2018, we saw a 30 per cent tuition increase for out-of-province and international students. Now we’re hearing talks of more cuts and tuition increases across the board. These actions do not show a government committed to accessible post-secondary education, despite the commitments they’ve made time and time again.
The campaign has three main demands for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador…
In response to the concerns from students around the lack of action from the government to support university and college students throughout the pandemic, the Canadian Federation of Students is in the process of launching a new campaign titled Education For All to highlight the challenges students have been facing accessing their post-secondary education and the need for a universally accessible system of education.
The campaign has three main demands for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador: first and foremost, we are asking for the immediate reduction of tuition fees and the elimination of online learning and campus renewal fees, as students learning from home are not receiving the same quality education that regular in-class and hands-on learning would provide, and many students are not physically attending the institutions to which students are paying these fees.
Secondly, we are asking for earmarked funding to ensure all students in the province have access to the necessary supports and services such as health care, mental health services, quality internet and technology. This includes additional funding to the university and college to provide these services for students, as well as including post-secondary students in the needs-based Chromebook program, and immediately beginning the process of equipping all communities in the province with affordable high-speed internet and service.
And thirdly, we are asking for the reinstatement of the full needs-based grants program and the forgiveness of student loans to ensure students can pursue their studies without the worries of increasing debt.
The Canadian Federation of Students Newfoundland and Labrador launched a survey in December to gather feedback from post-secondary students on how the pandemic has impacted their studies and overall well-being. The survey focuses on the effects of the pandemic on students’ academic performance, job opportunities and work placements, financial situation, food and housing security, physical and mental health, and how students found the transition to online learning.
The survey will conclude at the end of January and the results will be shared with the public, as well as our public post-secondary institutions and the provincial government, to ensure that students’ voices are heard.
Newfoundland and Labrador has long been a leader for affordable post-secondary education, and now more than ever we need the government to invest in post-secondary education and the students — both domestic and international — of our province for the betterment of the economy and population of our province.
With the provincial budget fast approaching and an election underway, we hope to see the provincial government follow through on their commitments to post-secondary education in the province and ensure Newfoundland and Labrador has education for all.
Bailey Howard, chairperson
Canadian Federation of Students — Newfoundland and Labrador