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Nova Scotians want reduced tuition fees, increased government funding

Poll shows many Nova Scotians did not pursue secondary education because of cost

by Robert Devet

A poll commissioned by a coalition of faculty, students and staff finds significant support among Nova Scotians for increased funding, lower tuition fees, and replacing student loans with non-repayable grants.  Photo Robert Devet
A poll commissioned by a coalition of faculty, students and staff finds significant support among Nova Scotians for increased funding, lower tuition fees, and replacing student loans with non-repayable grants. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) -  Most Nova Scotians believe the affordability of post-secondary education should be a priority for the provincial government. In fact, as an issue it is right up there with unemployment, healthcare and taxes.

That is one of the findings of a poll commissioned by the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition, a group comprised of the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia (CFS-NS), the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, and the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT).

At a press conference held at Province House today the coalition used the poll findings to argue that governments and university administrations have been out of sync with the expectations of Nova Scotians and that it is time for a very different approach.

The poll shows that Nova Scotians are very worried about the high costs of secondary education, and related issues such as rising student debts and out-migration.

85 percent of Nova Scotians believe that tuition fees for universities and colleges are too high and should be reduced. Average tuition fees for undergraduate students are close to $6200.

"We are asking the government to listen to students, their families, and citizens across our province, and reduce tuition fees," Anna Dubinski , Chairperson of CFS-NS, said at the press conference.

High tuition fees and crushing student debt together present a real obstacle to pursuing a post-secondary education for many young Nova Scotians, the poll revealed.

Almost a third of the people who were surveyed claimed that they themselves or someone in their family did not attend college or university because it would mean taking on too much debt.

Since the late seventies the share of funding that universities receive from government has decreased from about 80 percent to less than 50 percent, the coalition says. This in turn has driven tuition fees upwards.

60 percent of Nova Scotians believe government should reverse this trend and increase funding of universities and colleges. 32 percent believe government funding should stay at the current level.

What's more, Nova Scotians are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

60 percent of Nova Scotians would be willing to pay a small increase in income taxes if they knew it would go to improving the affordability of the university or college in their area.

"We are constantly being told that Nova Scotia is in a crisis and that Nova Scotians are overtaxed, but what the poll revealed is that nearly two thirds of Nova Scotians would actually prefer to pay more tax if it would make post-secondary education more affordable," said ANSUT President Dr. Chris Ferns.

The coalition also argues that universities are not necessarily spending their money wisely.

"Over the last years we have seen serious financial crises at a number of Nova Scotia universities, and that is largely because of a lack of adequate controls on expenditures, Ferns said. "On several campuses there have been enormous outlays on buildings, despite there having been insufficient funds raised to pay for them."

Ferns also points to the increase in numbers of senior administrators while the number of full time faculty has actually declined. Ferns considers this a clear example of ill-conceived priorities among university management.

Nova Scotians surveyed overwhelmingly believe that students, faculty and staff should play a major role in decision-making. Both Ferns and Dubinski said that their opinions are typically ignored by university administrators.

But students are paying attention and have ways of making themselves heard, said CFS-NS organizer David Etherington.

"With the Dalhousie Student Union and the Kings College Student Union we have seen massive mobilizations through petition writing, class talks and information distribution to protest the Dalhousie Board's attempt to cut the budget for the Killam Library," Etherington said. "These issues are on top of students minds."

In his closing words Dr. Fern reiterated the case for free post-secondary education, which is one of the coalition's long term objectives.

"Lots of people think that the elimination of tuition fees is some ludicrous utopian goal. I was educated in England and I had the benefit of a free education," said Ferns.

"That is one the things my generation should be most ashamed of, that we had access to affordable education but are not providing it for our children."


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert



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Topics: Education
706 words


university education costs

I would also add that there are a number of students who are having to leave university in the midst of their education because they of the fear of accumulating further debt.  We are doing our society a grave dis-service by sentencing society's vibrant minds to low pay jobs as they save to return to their studies.  I wonder if this angle of the cost of post secondary education was addressed in the poll mentioned in this story.  Thanks for raising this issue. 

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