MUN faculty, students divided as university grapples with financial crunch

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MUN faculty, students divided as university grapples with financial crunch

The debate over how Memorial University should deal with a shrinking pot of money from the provincial government appears to have divided academic leaders and students.

That was very clear during a special session of the university's senate on Monday, with deans and other faculty largely supporting a proposal to increase tuition and implement new fees, while student representatives said such moves will dull MUN's competitive advantage when it comes to attracting students from outside the province.

Tuition represents approximately 12 per cent of MUN's overall revenue, which is far lower than other universities and is "unsustainable," said one dean.

Another faculty member stated: "We need to bring in more money to maintain and improve [the] quality of education we are delivering."

But critics of the proposed increases said MUN's reputation as one of the country's least expensive universities has helped attract some of the best and brightest to this province from around the world, and that will be threatened if changes are made.

"I came here because I could only afford to go to MUN," said one student representative on the university's senate.

$12 million in fee hikes proposed

University leaders laid out some examples Monday of how a budget shortfall might be addressed, including continued cuts to administration, with $3 million in salary cuts planned for next year.

But it's clear that revenue generation is also on the table, with a 16.3 per cent general increase in tuition being considered, with a full rebate for Newfoundland and Labrador students.

An annual campus renewal fee of $450 per student and a $50 per semester student services fee is also being proposed.

In all, these measures would bring in about $12 million, which is roughly equivalent to the cut in this year's operating grant from the provincial government.

"Ultimately we need to find a solution which we think creates the best situation for maintaining the quality of our programs, and the integrity of the institution so we can continue to deliver on our mandate," MUN president Gary Kachanoski told reporters after the meeting.

A special town hall meeting

Memorial's student union has long opposed any fee hikes, and argues that prospective students will enrol elsewhere if the tuition gap between MUN and other universities is narrowed too much.

Renata Lang, the incoming director of external affairs at MUNSU, said the cost of relocating and travel to the province is just one part of the bigger picture.

"We see of course other taxes locally, price of living is going up, food is more expense, then it becomes comparatively not that much of an advantage price wise," Lang said.

The senate meeting was one step in a process that could result in some formal decisions when the university's board of regents meets on May 11.

The university is also planning a town hall meeting on Thursday afternoon at the Bruneau Centre to give students a chance to voice their concerns.

In response to criticism about what some have called "administrative bloat" at MUN, Kachanoski said there have been significant cuts in administration in recent years, with more to come.

"We've protected the academic aspects of the academy up to this point and have been taking all of the budget cuts previously within the administrative areas," he said.