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Two per cent tuition increase, deficit discussed at bi-campus budget conversation

UNB’s $2.3 million net operating deficit, changes in tuition rates and future budget planning were only some of the items discussed at the university-wide town hall budget meeting on Wednesday.

The bi-campus budget conversation about the 2017-18 budget was video-conferenced between the UNB Fredericton and Saint John campuses. The budget was released last week.

Although the 2017-18 budget presents a $2.3 million deficit – marking the third year in a row that UNB has presented a deficit – the plan is to have a balanced budget by 2019-20.

“There will be a deficit budget this year for next year and our budgeting prospect for 2019-20 is a balanced budget. So the management of the university has committed to the Board of Governors that 2019-20 will be a balanced budget,” said George MacLean, UNB vice-president academic.

Students to see tuition increases

In order to address the deficit, tuition for domestic students was raised by two per cent while international student differential fees were raised by five per cent. This increase was smaller than last year’s, which saw domestic tuition raised by five per cent – with a one-time three per cent rebate for New Brunswick students – and international differential fees upped by 10 per cent.

In a press release sent out on Monday, the UNBSU wrote that they “[opposed] these changes, recognizing that they will increase the financial burden on their students.”

MacLean said that UNBSU executive members were involved in and affected budget decisions made by the university.

“We are working diligently to minimize any sort of negative effect with respect to tuition and fees that might affect students,” he said.

“We recognize the importance of working with the student groups. In the coming weeks, I’m going to be meeting with the Student Union as I did last year. They outlined their priorities and we were able to achieve several of them.”

UNBSU president Herbert Bempah said that predictability in tuition is another concern of the Student Union.

“The unpredictability of tuition from year to year makes it incredibly difficult for students to plan financially for their academic year,” said Bempah in a press release.

“Surprise expenses create stress and sometimes even the need to work additional hours, which in turn can negatively impact studies. For this reason, the UNBSU is working closely with the New Brunswick Student Alliance to advocate that the university develop a system to determine tuition increases in advance, so as to better inform students on the costs they can expect.”

The university is also working to make tuition rates more predictable for students. In March, UNB launched a tuition review task force that is looking at the tuition rates of comparable universities in Canada in order to change UNB’s current model. The goal is to have a tuition rate that is predictable for students.

One possible change could be a differentiated tuition rate by faculty, where students in some faculties, such as professional programs, would pay a higher tuition than others. MacLean said that tuition increases under the new model would not be substantial, but that tuition wouldn’t decrease either.

“I would suspect several [faculties] would probably not change,” he said.

The task force will report their findings during the summer and rates will be made public in the fall.

Budget release delayed because of on-going MOU discussions with province

The 2017-18 budget was originally set to be released at the beginning of May, but ongoing discussions about the memorandum of understanding between publicly funded universities and the province caused it to be postponed.

The provincial government announced in February that it had increased funding by $45 million, to be divided between all post-secondary publicly-funded institutions. The province will seek agreements with New Brunswick colleges and universities to fund pilot projects and commit to predictability in government funding and tuition for students for a four-year period.

At Wednesday’s town hall meeting, Karen Cunningham, UNB vice-president finance, said that the discussions were not completed but they couldn’t delay the budget release further. However, MacLean said that the negotiations were coming along.

“We’re getting close,” MacLean said. “We’re feeling really positive right now that what we can achieve with this government will give us some stability over at least the near term – four years – on what we can expect with regards to tuition and what we can expect with regards to the government grant.”

From its share of the $45 million, UNB has projected a one per cent increase in the operating grant from the province– the first increase from the government since the freeze in 2014-15.

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