MUN president open to discussing lift on tuition freeze, pledges to keep education accessible

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Memorial University President Vianne Timmons says she and the university are open to discussing lifting the tuition freeze for post-secondary schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.  (Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)
Memorial University President Vianne Timmons says she and the university are open to discussing lifting the tuition freeze for post-secondary schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)
Memorial University President Vianne Timmons says she and the university are open to discussing lifting the tuition freeze for post-secondary schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Memorial University President Vianne Timmons says she and the university are open to discussing lifting the tuition freeze for post-secondary schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Memorial University president Vianne Timmons says she and the university are open to discussions surrounding the proposed lift of the tuition freeze for post-secondary institutions in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The proposal came from a 354-page report, All Hands on Deck, which focuses on the state of higher education in the province, and contains 84 recommendations made by an independent committee appointed by the provincial government in 2019. The report was released on Thursday.

"We see the importance of looking at revenue for the university, but we have some principles that we'll always keep in mind," Timmons told CBC News on Monday.

"We want the university's education to be accessible. We want to make sure that our Newfoundland and Labrador students are supported and have supports in place so that it's not undue hardship for them financially."

Timmons said there is no plan, right now, to make any changes to tuition for the fall, but added she couldn't speculate beyond that.

Newfoundland and Labrador's average annual undergraduate tuition fees are the lowest of any province in the country. MUN's tuition is $2,550 per year for full-time undergraduate students from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Timmons said if tuition goes up, students currently enrolled will pay the same as what they are currently paying.

"There will be no student who is presently enrolled in Memorial that will be compromised," she said.

Timmons added, the university will look at bursary and scholarships for students in need if the change is made.

Not worried about attendance

Lifting the tuition freeze was denounced by students when the report was released on Thursday. Kat McLaughlin, director of advocacy with MUN's student union, told CBC News at the time that she feared a higher cost of education in Newfoundland and Labrador will lead to further outmigration of young people from the province.

The Canadian Federation of Students Newfoundland and Labrador said it worries a higher tuition cost can also keep people from pursuing post-secondary education at all.

Timmons said she isn't worried about attendance at MUN in relation to a higher tuition.

Timmons said tuition fee increases will not affect currently enrolled students at MUN.
Timmons said tuition fee increases will not affect currently enrolled students at MUN. (Paul Daly/CBC)

"Some university's with high tuition get a ton of applications. That is not an issue for us," she said.

"We would anticipate, if we had to lift the tuition, a slight decrease initially. But, not a long-term impact."

As for revenue, Timmons said $42 million has been cut from MUN's budget since 2016. She said in that time the university lost 10 per cent of it's faculty and staff, and 20 per cent of its administration.

She said it's not healthy for MUN to be so dependent on the provincial government for funding, and another recommendation from the education report is to give more autonomy for post-secondary institutions. .

"If you look at our buildings, we don't get funding now for deferred maintenance from government. We really need to put some resources into our buildings and programs," she said.

"This is a critical time for Memorial University, and I'm looking forward to our maintaining the quality that it has. But to do that, we're going to really need appropriate resources."

On Friday, PC MHA and education critic Barry Petten told reporters there needed to be a deeper dive into MUN's books to look into what he called "lavish spending" and wage increases.

Timmons said she was disappointed to hear that comment, and added it's uninformed. She said MUN's faculty is among the lowest paid in Atlantic Canada.

"The authors on this report did a deep dive on our finances, and they came out saying that we definitely don't need to be cut and we need to look at alternate sources of revenue," she said.

"I'm not sure where that comment came from. I've been at this university a year and I will say that every single penny spent is scrutinized. It is a very lean institution."

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