FREDERICTON – One of the biggest surprises to come out of the Liberal’s budget wasn’t one of the cuts, it was the reaction.
Within hours, an online petition gained thousands of signatures from across New Brunswick. It’s asking the government to reinstate the tuition rebate program.
The program was supposed to be an incentive for graduating students to stay and work in the province. If grads found a job here, they were eligible for a rebate. But as of December, that’s gone.
The backlash to the announcement was swift – and blunt.
After signing the petition, Amber Carroll of Fredericton wrote:
“The tuition rebate program was one of the largest deciding factors that kept me in this province for university. Now that I’m halfway through pursuing a post-secondary professional degree, I was relying on that assistance to help me manage the crippling debt I’ll be facing come graduation.”
From Josh Hennessy in Rothesay:
“A major part of my wife and I moving to N.B. was for the tuition rebate program. We feel duped as we registered for this three years ago and now cannot collect. Value what you said you would do.”
On social media, the petition was shared thousands of times, with grads sharing their personal stories.
“Tuition rebate program cancelled. And my sister is just about to graduate. Better start encouraging her to move out of N.B.”
The New Brunswick Student Alliance is equally disappointed. Patrick Joyce, executive director, says the program needed review. But he wasn’t expecting it to be thrown out entirely.
“$22 million, $25 million in a pure cut for a vulnerable population and a population that is increasingly leaving New Brunswick is absolutely detrimental,” said Joyce.
Now Joyce is concerned about what that money will be used for, and if it will be put towards other programs for students.
“It is surprising that this cut didn’t come with any mention of reallocation or reinvestment of these funds.”
In response, finance minister Roger Melanson said the cut was justified. Melanson told media Wednesday that his department has worked with student groups, and his research showed the rebate didn’t do much to offset the cost of tuition.
Instead, Melanson says the government should focus more on jobs as a way to entice young people.
“We need to have job creation in the province of New Brunswick. That’s key. If there are no jobs, the program doesn’t work,” said Melanson. “That’s why we’re so focused on job creation. That’s why we’re developing new initiatives like the youth job fund that’s going to help our younger generation to get a job and stay in New Brunswick.”