Although tuition increases are not something that UNB president Eddy Campbell takes lightly, students are inevitably concerned when such an increase occurs. A two per cent increase in tuition was announced in June as part of the 2017-2018 fiscal budget, a decision made in light of the financial deficits UNB has been running.
Campbell said the university’s board of governors wanted the institution to arrive at a balanced budget by the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and an increase to tuition is one route being taken to get there.
Campbell referenced the provincial government freezing the university’s operating budget in 2015 as another reason for this increase.
“I’m not happy about that, but I don’t point a finger of blame. The government is struggling with a really significant fiscal deficit of its own and its ability—whatever its desire—to help post-secondary education is therefore constrained,” said Campbell.
Campbell said he felt that tuition has become too much of a political issue at New Brunswick’s universities. “I don’t think our government should be involved in regulating tuition fees; I think our boards hold that responsibility and I think our boards discharge it ably and well.”
Campbell’s opinion was one that was shared by New Brunswick Student Alliance director Robert Burroughs, who said the NBSA had adopted a policy where they “do not believe that government should involve itself in the establishment of tuition fees.”
“If government wants to come along and pose tuition freezes or tuition caps, we have a pretty explicit policy that we would reject that notion unless increases to the operating grants compensate,” said Burroughs.
UNB is currently operating under a government mandated tuition cap of two per cent; the government has issued caps at similar rates over the past few years, contributing to the university’s frustration with their continued regulation of tuition fees.
Burroughs said the NBSA believes tuition should be a negotiated agreement between the university and its student body, and that this increase in tuition is to be expected if consideration is given to rising costs for the university.
“At some point, somebody is going to have to pay for the cost of education—and it’s been students who have had to take on the lion’s share of the burden on that front,” said Burroughs.
The provincial government has taken on some of the burden with 2016’s Tuition Access Bursary and the new Tuition Relief for the Middle Class that students can apply for.
According to Burroughs, financial aid is essential for increasing post-secondary education’s accessibility, and the government’s restriction of their tuition relief program to New Brunswick universities will help retain a rapidly declining youth population.
Another new development is the Tuition Review Task Force, which is currently examining tuition at UNB “by term, by course, by credit hour, by faculty, by program,” according to Dr. Campbell.
One thing Burroughs would like to see come out of this task force is a move towards greater predictability and stability. He said the fluctuating price tag of a university education makes it difficult for students and parents to plan financially.
“What a lot of our students at UNB have been complaining about is the inconsistency, so what we’re looking for in any case [is to] have it laid out so that when you walk in on day one you know exactly what you’re paying in tuition over the course of a four-year degree,” Burroughs said.
International students hit especially hard
Consistency is something that third year chemical engineering student Disha Bisto would appreciate. Bisto, an international student who selected UNB in part for its affordability, has been subjected to major hikes in international student differential fees—including a ten per cent increase for the upcoming academic year.
Tuition increases at UNB are announced at the end of every academic year when the next year’s budget is released. Bisto expressed a dislike for the process and shared Burroughs’ desire for more predictability.
“Every student that comes in every year, they’re coming knowing that the fees are [last year’s fees], so it’s kind of like almost betraying the students … The students can’t just stop in the middle of a degree and then go back home, like that’s a huge loss … [Post-secondary education] is an investment and you want a return out of it.”
This ten per cent increase is on top of last year’s ten per cent increase to international student differential fees in last year’s budget, which Bisto reminded are charged to international students in addition to the student body-wide increases in tuition
Something Bisto will benefit from this year, however, is the inclusion of international students in Medicare coverage. International students can now apply for Medicare while they attend UNB, an option that will relieve some of the financial burden that purchasing private health care plans placed on many international students.
Even though Medicare is free, international students will have to pay a $64.50 travel insurance fee to cover them while they’re out-of-province. Students will also have to pay $200 per term for emergency health coverage while they wait for their application to process, which usually takes four to six weeks.
With a lack of financial aid options catered towards them, international students often seek part-time employment to help make ends meet.
Bisto acquired a position through UNB’s Work-Study program that has helped relieve some financial stress, but empathizes with those students who remain unemployed. “For international students, it is quite limited to get a scholarship … I’m not saying that we don’t have any, but relative to other Canadian students or Permanent Resident students … It’s not a complaint but it’s a fact, you know. It’s just there.”
In terms of making UNB more affordable to everyone, Campbell expressed desire to focus on the students who are really struggling financially.
“Rather than sort of do this one-size-fits-all and start arguing about tuition in the large, I would rather devote a whole lot of effort to determining what are the causes,’ said Campbell.
“How do we identify those students who are headed for those less-than-ideal futures before they wind up with really significant amounts of debt, and help them and aid them so they graduate with their degrees in a more timely way, without that kind of debt load?”