Rejecting the reset: postcard drive targets tuition hikes

By: Danielle Cameron

Students across Nova Scotia, including the University of King’s College are campaigning for the provincial government to “Reject the Reset” – calling on the officials to reject proposals that will increase tuition fees and higher debt loads.

This week student leaders were visiting Nova Scotia universities asking students to sign postcards. Signed in both English and French, there are hundreds of postcards. Over the next few weeks, the CFSNS anticipates thousands.

Each hasty signature scribbled is asking Kelly Regan, Minister for Labour and Advanced Education, to reject the removal of the tuition cap, which would allow the government to increase tuition by whatever amount it wishes for an undetermined period of time.

“Student debt loads in Nova Scotia are, on average, $37,000 upon graduation,” says Michaela Sam, chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia (CFSNS). “Right now? Nova Scotia students are paying the third highest tuition fees in the country.” The federation cites average Canadian student debt upon graduation at around $27,000 – though high, it is significantly less than Nova Scotia’s.

The N.S. Liberal government’s 2015-2016 budget is of great concern to students studying or hoping to study in the province. This budget abolished the three per cent tuition cap for post-secondary institutions province-wide.

“This is a very backward way to think about higher education and about investing in the future through youth,” says Robert Huish, associate professor of international development at Dalhousie University.

The province argues this measure allows universities to initiate a “one-time market adjustment” to tuition, which would enable the institutions to charge like amounts for like programs and services.

“By standing united against the provincial government,” says Sam, “students across the province are planning to oppose the reset proposals and effective tuition fee de-regulation. This is to pressure the government to increase university funding and reduce tuition fees.”

On Oct. 15, 2015, the University of King’s College Board of Governors approved the tuition reset. This could result in a $1,000 tuition fee increase on the Foundation Year Program,over the next three years. Since that decision, students attending King’s have sent letters to the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and are in solidarity with students facing similar situations across the province.

“I think students will vote with their feet and not make the trip out to Nova Scotia, and will consider more affordable options, maybe closer to home,” Huish says. Atlantic universities are also seeing fewer local students enrolling. This week, Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission released data revealing Nova Scotia’s student enrolment has decreased to 44,037 students in 2014-2015.

It’s not just the students that are shaking their heads. “Both faculty and staff at institutions in N.S. have been very supportive of the campaign, recognizing that students cannot continue to be asked to bear the brunt of tuition fee increases as a way to make up for a lack of provincial funding,” says Sam.

“It’s paramount that the provincial government take action to create a real youth retention strategy.”

Huish agrees. “I think the more visible students and be and the more pressure they can put on the government and administration to say that this is unacceptable is going to be a very important factor.”

The argument on the ground, by students and faculty, is that this is no longer a question of education being a right or a privilege. These actions are being deemed within academia as a poor taxation policy: the government is “opening up a window to increase a disproportionate amount of taxation burden on youth to make up for other areas,” Huish says.

Largely, the campaigners and faculty alike say keeping people in debt is a form of social control. They stress that the efficacy of protest is to be seen, to be loud, and needs to clearly articulate an argument that people outside of the campus will resonate with – and that will force a public discussion.