New undergraduate numbers plummet at Memorial as tuition increases kick in

Memorial University students in St. John's and Corner Brook took to the streets on Wednesday in protest of increasing tuition fees, as data from the university reveals a sharp drop in the number of new full-time undergraduate students enrolling this fall. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Memorial University students in St. John's and Corner Brook took to the streets on Wednesday in protest of increasing tuition fees, as data from the university reveals a sharp drop in the number of new full-time undergraduate students enrolling this fall. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)

After a dramatic hike in undergraduate tuition at Memorial University, new registrations have dropped by 19 per cent, but the overall enrolment at Newfoundland and Labrador's only university is stable as the number of international students continues to grow.

Numbers released by the university reveal that 1,708 new full-time undergraduate students registered at Memorial's St. John's campus this fall, a decline of 404, or 19.1 per cent, from the fall of 2021.

In Corner Brook, Grenfell campus is down by 50 new undergraduate students, or a drop of 17.8 per cent.

The decline coincides with an end to a 1990s-era tuition fee freeze for students from the province, with the per-course cost for undergraduates enrolling this year spiking from $255 to $600.

New international undergraduates are now paying $2,000 per course, up from $1,146.

Returning students are locked into the old tuition formula, but with an annual four per cent increase.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

Critics say the drop in provincial and Canadian student enrolment is proof that education is becoming out of reach for a growing number of people.

"Students are being priced out. They can no longer afford to go to post-secondary. And that's reflected in our data for this year," said Isabel Ojeda, a spokesperson for Memorial's students' union, known as MUNSU.

"It's a lose-lose situation because it's not going to fix the budget like they anticipated," added Ash Hossain, president of Memorial's faculty association. "Secondly, it will hurt our economy in the long run because post-secondary education is a must these days for any decent job."

Students fighting back against the tuition hikes staged rallies in St. John's and Corner Brook on Wednesday.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

But while university leaders say they respect the rights of students to voice their concerns, their calls for a reversal of the increases are falling flat.

"If I was a student here, I might even be out there with them. But I'm not a student here and I can see the bigger picture of how to fund the university," said Neil Bose, Memorial's interim provost and academic vice-president.

Bose said the university had no choice but to increase rates after the provincial government announced last year it was phasing out the annual grant — nearly $70 million — over the next five years that allowed Memorial to keep fees frozen.

But the provincial government has said MUN initiated the tuition increase. Speaking to NTV in 2021, Tom Osborne, then education minister, said the university had warned the provincial government months earlier that tuition would need to double with or without government funding to keep it frozen.

"With that proposal from Memorial University, we made the decision to take the tuition freeze funding — because there's no tuition freeze funding if there's no tuition freeze — and redirect that to middle- and lower-income families to ensure that their student debt, with the new increase in tuition, would be no different than it would be with the old tuition," said Osborne at the time.

Even with the increases, Bose said Memorial's fees are still among the lowest in Canada and he expects enrolment numbers to even out.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

"When the dust settles we expect to see a similar trend to the past going forward," he said.

But the overall enrolment picture at Memorial is not as stark.

There are just over 19,000 students registered this fall, a decline of two per cent.

The drop in the number of new undergraduates is being offset by a surge in international student enrolments.

There are 4,511 international undergraduate and graduate students, coming from more than 100 countries, registered at Memorial this fall, an increase of 626 over the same period last year.

"That's absolutely amazing for Memorial, but it's also amazing for our community and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador," said Bose.

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