A significant tuition hike planned for Memorial University has some worried that the increased prices could keep both local and international students out of classes.
"Students are enraged. They're so upset, and so anxious about their future with today's announcement.… It's a huge jump, and it's terrifying for students," Kat McLaughlin, Newfoundland and Labrador chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said Friday.
"We're hearing from a lot of families with high school students, middle school students, who are now looking at how this is going to impact their future and the savings they had for their education. This is a huge, huge announcement for this province."
The comments came hours after the province's only university announced it would be more than doubling its tuition for Newfoundland and Labrador students beginning in the 2022 fall semester.
Tuition is set to jump from $2,550 per year for local students, and $3,330 per year for other Canadian students, up to $6,000 a year. Currently enrolled students will not pay the increased rates, but will see tuition rise four per cent per year until 2026.
The increase is the first since 1999, when the provincial government raised operating grants to the university in support of a tuition freeze.
While McLaughlin said it's not unrealistic to expect changes over 20 years, the freeze was important in attracting many students to the province — especially international students.
"It's very, very expensive to live here, and these students are factoring that in when they decide to come here. The original tuition rates were affordable when you're factoring in all those costs. Now, we're losing that."
NDP MHA Jim Dinn, who serves as the party's education critic, also expressed concern that increased tuition fees could turn people away.
"It's going to have a significant impact. It might mean that they are going to move, or they won't be able to pursue their dreams for a post-secondary education," Dinn said.
"If we're looking to retain new Canadians, this is not helping."
Needs-based grants won't help students outside N.L.
Dinn also spoke at length in reaction to the provincial government's announcement of a new needs-based tuition relief grant program. Eligible students may apply for up to $3,450 per year in non-repayable grants, in addition to grants and loans already in place, according to a media release.
Students can apply if they are enrolled in a full-time undergraduate program and graduated from high school in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I listen to the government's announcement, and I can't help but think it's the arsonist trying to claim credit for putting out the fire he started," Dinn said.
"It's going to have a significant impact on affordability for people who are already struggling here and trying to get their post-secondary education."
McLaughlin echoed a similar idea, highlighting that the wording of the release shows international students won't be able to apply for the new grants.
"A lot of students who are most marginalized … they're the ones who aren't able to access the structures to then receive the grants," she said.
Despite backlash toward the university following the tuition hike, McLaughlin said she believes the situation Memorial finds itself in "isn't solely reflective on the university."
"This is a reflection of the provincial government backing away from its commitment to fund post-secondary education," she said.
"This is only to cover the cut by government, so what we need is a government that prioritizes education. We're hearing that the government wants young people to dig us out of this mess, that young people are the future. We're not seeing that reflected."