Nova Scotia undergraduate students attending a local university should expect their tuition to increase by three per cent for each of the next five years, officials say.
The province’s Department of Advanced Education has signed a new five-year memorandum of understanding with the 10 universities.
It maintains the current cap on tuition increases of three per cent per year for undergraduate students from Nova Scotia, while there is no cap on tuition hikes for out-of-province or international students or those attending graduate and professional programs.
Universities will have to apply to the province for the three per cent hike, but the chair of the Council of University Presidents says it’s “not likely” that any university will fail to ask for the maximum increase every year.
WATCH (May 15, 2019): International students facing increasing costs
“But it’s not something that isn’t decided independently each and every year,” Bill Lahey said.
Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis says the province did not consider creating a cap on graduate and professional programs like law, medicine and dentistry.
“From the province’s point of view, the universities are independently run,” Kousoulis said.
“They need to be competitive in the market, so if the universities are setting prices that are not competitive, then those programs you’re talking about will be underfunded.”
Kousoulis also says tuition is not the biggest financial concern for students.
“More concerning to me, and what I hear from students especially in my constituency in Halifax, is the cost of the affordability of rent,” he said. “If you look at what rent costs for a year, it’s double or triple what they’re paying in tuition fees. That to me is a greater concern than the tuition fees.”
He also cited students’ ability to pay as a major concern and said Nova Scotia has one of the best student loan programs in the country.
But the Canadian Federation of Students calls it a disgrace that tuition for most students is unregulated.
“The housing crisis and affordability of education come hand in hand with each other,” said Lianne Xiao, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students Nova Scotia chapter.
“So while I understand that housing is a crisis, tuition fees and the upfront cost of tuition is the biggest barrier to accessing post-secondary education.”
The new agreement includes a one per cent increase in the operating grant the province provides universities for each year, which comes to an additional $3.6 million in 2019-20. Kousoulis also says most universities have rising enrolment of local and international students.
“The way universities are structured, where most of their costs are fixed, every new student that comes onto a campus goes right to their bottom line, which really greatly enhances the ability for the university to tackle their infrastructure needs,” he said.
This time around, the province is also setting aside funding for three other programs. Annual funding of $600,000 will go toward e-mental health, $1.685 million will be paid through the post-secondary innovation team to promote innovation and $470,000 per year will support sexual violence prevention.
This is the first school year when all Nova Scotia universities have a sexual violence prevention strategy in place. Sexual violence prevention was identified as a core priority in the last agreement.
“You can’t have one policy to cover every university, because universities are different. The culture at St. FX or Acadia where they’re in a rural setting, a small town, is different than a Dalhousie or a Saint Mary’s University,” Kousoulis said.
The policies do have to be based on a set of principles developed by the province’s sexual violence prevention committee.
Ava Czapalay, co-chair of the committee, says it will monitor the progress of the policies in partnership with Saint Mary’s University professor Diane Crocker, who will work on measuring students’ attitudes toward sexual violence prevention.