On November 2nd, rallies spurred by students at Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus took place across Canada demanding lower tuition fees and increased funding to post-secondary education.
Students from Grenfell proposed a National Day of Action, with concurrent marches and events happening all over the country, at the Canadian Federation of Student’s National General Meeting last June. The proposition was a response to a recent shift in the provincial government’s approach to funding post-secondary education.
“For years, successive provincial governments in Newfoundland and Labrador have increased funding to post-secondary education, reduced tuition fees, and increased funding to the grants program, but in the last few years we’ve been following the Canadian trend of cutting post-secondary education and increasing tuition fees,” explained Alex Noel, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – NL (CFS-NL).
Just last year, Newfoundland and Labrador became the first province to replace student loans with non-repayable grants. However, the most recent provincial budget cut the needs-based grants program, triggering the reinstatement of student loans.
Noel says that students across the country collectively owe twenty-eight billion dollars in public student debt and despite having the lowest tuition in the country, the average student debt in Newfoundland and Labrador is sixteen thousand per student.
“I hear from students all the time who are struggling with having to choose between the cost of paying tuition and buying groceries. Students are going hungry, they’re using the food bank frequently. Food banks are a main staple on campuses across the country and that’s alarming,” Noel says.
The Premier says the province’s fiscal deficit means we have to cut public services like funding to post-secondary education. Noel argues cutting public services is not a solution to the province’s financial crisis.
“In times of economic downturn it’s important than ever to increase investment in public services, such as post-secondary education, in order to stimulate the economy. When people are not burdened with debt after education they’re able to do things that contribute to the economy, like purchase homes and cars and start families,” Noel says.
In 1999, students in Newfoundland and Labrador took part in a National Day of Action for the first time. Students from Memorial University and the College of The North Atlantic, marched up Prince Phillip Drive and rallied at the Confederation Building in response to a decade of fee increases and cuts to post secondary education.
When the provincial budget was released, a few weeks after that rally, Premiere Brain Tobin announced that he would be reducing tuition fees by twenty-five percent and instating a tuition freeze. The freeze remained in place for fifteen years.
Today, hundreds of students gathered in the fog and rain at Memorial’s St. John’s campus and marched the same route to the Confederation Building to call on the Federal and Provincial Government to once again take concrete steps to make post-secondary education more accessible.