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Inflation, rising tuition causing anxiety for New Brunswick university students

With rising inflation affecting the cost of food, housing, and gas, New Brunswick university students are feeling anxious about tuition increases set for the fall.

For the upcoming academic year, St. Thomas University will have a five percent tuition increase, Mount Allison a three percent increase, and the University of New Brunswick a 4.5 percent increase.

At UNB, which already had an increase of three percent last year, student Kordell Walsh said the extra tuition dollars could be used for rent, textbooks, and supplies instead.

“For some students, that four and a half per cent is sadly going to be perhaps the difference between being able to justify coming back in the fall or not,” said Walsh, president of UNB’s undergraduate student body in Fredericton.

Last year, tuition for domestic UNB Arts students was $7,488. This year’s increase will bring that up to $7,825, plus student organization fees.

That’s an increase of $337. For international students, the increase is even more — about $750.

Degree program tuition for the 2022-23 school year at the University of New Brunswick. (The University of New Brunswick)

A UNB spokesperson said the university undertakes a thorough market analysis to determine program demand and compare undergraduate tuition across the Maritime provinces.

“UNB has generally fallen behind its comparator universities in terms of tuition rates,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC News, adding a committee that includes student representatives recommended the changes, which were unanimously endorsed.

This year’s operating budget also includes a three percent increase for scholarships and financial aid for a total of $5.5 million. There is also approximately $10.9 million available from the trust and endowment fund for various forms of student support.

“This increase still places UNB below most of its competitors, however it is intended to help bridge the gap with our regional peers and still be financially manageable for students,” the spokesperson wrote.

Walsh called the increase significant, especially considering the rising cost of food, housing, and gas for a population of young people who often live paycheque to paycheque. Housing is more expensive the closer a student lives to campus, he added, but driving to campus is also becoming more expensive.

More support from the provincial government needed

He said certain measures, like the elimination of interest on provincial student loans and the province’s new rent cap rules, are helpful, but he thinks a more sustainable, long-term solution is increased financial support from the provincial government.

New Brunswick universities are receiving a 1.5 per cent increase in operating grants from the province.

“That’s just not a sufficient response from the province, either,” Walsh said.

He said the student union has been advocating for a few years for the province to maintain, at minimum, a three percent increase in the operating grants, which he said could help prevent universities from increasing tuition.

At St. Thomas University, the five percent tuition increase prompted the school’s student union to release a statement expressing its disappointment.

“These tuition increases are extremely concerning. The lack of affordable housing as well as increased food insecurity and cost of living in the post-pandemic world has negatively impacted students’ ability to pursue post-secondary education,” the statement said.

Alex Nguyen, the student union president at St. Thomas University, called upcoming tuition increases concerning. (Submitted by Alex Nguyen)

In an interview, the student union’s president, Alex Nguyen, said the union had not yet heard a response from the university regarding its concerns.

The tuition increase translates into an additional $383 for domestic students and $860 for international students.

Nguyen said this year’s increase follows a five percent increase last year.

“This has been a continuation of such a massive increase that affects students more on different aspects, including mental health, physical well-being and financial stability,” she said.

She also commented on the operating grant STU receives from the province, which increased by 1.5 per cent this year. Calling the increase insufficient, she said it doesn’t keep up with rising inflation.

While she did expect some kind of increase, she said five per cent is shocking to the student body, especially for students entering the final year hoping to graduate.

She added that she hasn’t seen any information about financial aid increasing from within the university alongside the tuition increase.

Jeffrey Carleton, a spokesperson for STU, said anytime a university sets its tuition, it’s looking at financial health, maintaining educational quality, and maintaining student accessibility.

“So costs arising in the sector, there’s general inflation costs, there’s also specific costs to the university. So those have to be accounted for.”

Carleton said STU also has a committee, made up of faculty, staff, and student representatives, that sets tuition rates.

He pointed out that STU also has the fourth lowest tuition for both domestic and international students in the region.

On the other hand, he said STU also provides almost $2 million a year in scholarships and bursaries. This upcoming year, he said 87 per cent of incoming students who applied for financial aid will receive it.

“We do add scholarships and bursaries every year, so yes, there is an increase on an annual basis in those supports,” he said, although he could not say how much the increase will be this year.

When it comes to provincial aid, Carleton said there are discussions upcoming for the potential for additional support based on set enrollment goals.

“The 1.5 per cent [increase] is helpful to us, it is appreciated. But at the same time, it’s widely recognized that inflation factors in the universities usually run up around 3 per cent.”

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