MUN told to look for savings, as government cuts spending by $3M

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MUN told to look for savings, as government cuts spending by $3M

Memorial University is going to have to find its own ways to save money, after the Newfoundland and Labrador government cut about $3 million from its operating grant.

Thursday's budget outlined the overall budget for MUN at $315 million. That's down from $318 million.

Government has given the university more money, to the tune of $4 million, in order to maintain the tuition freeze for students from Newfoundland and Labrador.

But its regular operating grant is cut by an overall $7 million.

MUN will now have to find another $3 million in savings, without being able to increase tuition fees.

Where will money come from?

Minister Gerry Byrne said he believes it's "very much achievable" for Memorial to find those savings, without compromising services to students.

In light of the consideration that MUN is an institution that gets half a billion dollars annually, Byrne said he thinks these are operational cuts the university can afford.

As for where he thinks those efficiencies can come from, Byrne said that's a discussion to be had between government and the university.

Alex Noel, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students in Newfoundland and Labrador says the tuition freeze commitment is a huge victory.

Citing research that shows the freeze helps attract and retain young people in the province, Noel said it's important that the freeze apply to students who come from outside the province.

"It has to include all students at Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic — all students, whether they're undergraduate students, graduate students, Canadian students, international students," Noel said.

"There have been tuition fee increases for certain demographics of students over the past couple of years and so we need to emphasize that this fee freeze must include all students in order to have the greatest and most meaningful impact."

Student tuition, funding

Meanwhile, students from this province can expect to see the same low tuition fees they're used to, but Byrne said there will be a shift in how they can avail of government funding for student grants.

The previous cap models for both federal and provincial funding has changed.

Where students could before only get a maximum of 60 per cent of their costs covered by federal funding, they can now access more.

That would change the way students have to pay back money, Byrne said, but they'll get "at least as much as they got before."

This also means that provincial funding would only kick in once the federal funding available to a student has been exhausted.

Byrne estimates that will mean an additional $2 million overall will be made available.

However, Noel said CFS worries that changes to the student loan program will saddle students with more debt.

Noel said people in Newfoundland and Labrador collectively owe $600 million in student debt.

"When people have less debt, it's good for everybody, because it means folks are contributing to the economy such as buying a house, buying a car, starting a business, starting a family," Noel said.

"That's what we need in times of economic downturn."