HALIFAX–The NDP government announced that it will introduce a debt cap for Nova Scotia students, but will not address high tuition fees, in the 2011-12 budget released today. The debt cap of $28.560 will not be in full effect until 2014-15, and will only benefit students in four-year programs who complete their degrees.
“The best way to cap and reduce student debt is to ensure students do not have to take on debt in the first place,” said Elise Graham, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Nova Scotia. “This new program will still require students to take on massive debt loads in order to pay high tuition fees.”
The debt cap program will apply a payment to a student’s debt upon completion and will only apply to four years of study. The government also announced that it will be increasing loan limits and implementing a modest increase to the grants program. The government has budgeted $25 million for the Graduate Retention Rebate, a tax credit available to students regardless of income or need. With that money, the government could provide 100 percent of a student’s provincial loan as an up-front, non-repayable grant; a change students have been calling for since the NDP was elected.
Today’s budget also included a four percent funding cut to universities. On February 1 Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More announced that the NDP government would end a four-year tuition fee freeze and increase tuition fees by three percent for 2011-12. The provincial government currently spends about $2, 000 less per-student on universities than the national average. As a result, students in Nova Scotia pay some of the highest tuition fees in the country and graduate with the highest average student debt, at $31, 000.
“This year the government will boast a four hundred million dollar surplus but is unwilling to invest in a well-funded, high-quality university system that is affordable for Nova Scotia students and their families,” said Graham.
On February 2, over 2, 000 students took to the streets of Halifax, Wolfville and Church Point for the Reduce Fees-Drop Debt Student Day of Action, the largest student protest in Nova Scotia in a decade. Student s called on the government to invest in post-secondary education, reduce tuition fees and increase grants available to students.
In February, students presented Finance Minister Graham Steele with their budget recommendations, which can be viewed at www.cfs-ns.ca under “Policy and Research”.