On a rainy Tuesday afternoon this week, the Dalhousie Board of Governors voted to approve a 3 per cent tuition increase.
A student rally had been planned for before the meeting to protest the Board’s decisions on issues with misogyny on campus, divestment from fossil fuels, and tuition fees. But in the wake of the provincial budget, it was the latter issue that was foremost on students’ minds as they waited for the meeting to start.
“Everything is concerning but it impacts me the most,” said Brenna MacPhee, a student set to start her graduate degree at Dalhousie in the Fall.
“Professional programs have been almost completely deregulated and so students are graduating with enormous amounts of debt that is impossible to take on,” said Katrin MacPhee, a first year law student. The changes announced in the provincial budget – including the perpetual deregulation of graduate, international and out-of-province tuition – will only exacerbate this, she said.
But it’s a hard time to organize any student response, even without the rain. “The tuition deregulation was announced right before students went home and it’s really hard to build the kind of resistance needed under these circumstances.”
Yet that resistance wasn’t entirely absent. As the meeting prepared to start, a group of students sat quietly at the back of the room, the empty seats in front of them adorned with signs that read ‘no more goodbye parties’ and ‘who is your priority?’.
The Board Chair, Lawrence Stordy, approached students and thanked them for attending, asking them to remain quiet throughout the meeting.
“This is a business meeting… every university has a business side,” he said, adding that he hoped academics were the main part.
The students countered that business had become the main part and the two parties agreed to disagree.
When it came time to vote on tuition, all members but two – student members Ramz Aziz and John Hutton – approved a 3 per cent hike, an increase Dalhousie Provost Carolyn Watters termed a “conservative approach”.
Aziz responded to the vote, saying that even a 3 per cent increase was “extremely worrying to a lot of students and I feel that if we continue in this trend it will harm students for years to come.”
After the vote, students stood up and left the room en masse in a silent act of protest.
In the lobby, they gathered to discuss what had just happened.
“When they vote for something that so many people are so against, it is disempowering,” said Isabelle Ofume, student organizer with Students Against Fee Hikes.
Although the Board Chair had told students before the meeting that he wanted to see them engaged, the fact that the student representatives who opposed the increase were so thoroughly outvoted questions the sincerity of that commitment.
“They say we’re represented at the table,” said Ofume. “We aren’t.”
Aaron Beale, who was one of the students occupying Finance Minister Diana Whalen’s office last week, said the fact that the government has left it up to universities themselves to behave responsibly is “laughable”.
“The government is delusional if they think Board of Governors represent students in that way.”
Dalhousie President Richard Florizone’s characterization of the provincial budget in the meeting is further evidence of the disconnect that exists between students and administrators, the students said. Florizone said in the meeting that he felt universities had done relatively well in the context of the overall budget.
The fact that the budget was characterized in this way when it stands to affect students so profoundly is an indication of how students can’t trust Boards of Governors to act in their interests, said Beale.
Though the result of the meeting was frustrating to students, they said that if nothing else, it wasn’t shocking.
“The system is set up so that the outcome and the balance of power is clear,” said Marietta Wildt. “It’s not a surprise game.”
I have a real problem with how we view PSE in this province. We are a province where citizens are not wealthy yet we price our students out of the market for post secondary education. In a recent Herald Article Kelly Regan was quoted as saying
“Nova Scotia is the most successful jurisdiction in Canada in attracting out-of-province students. There is a reason that those students leave their home province to come here.
“I see the university sector as one of the most important assets in the province and freely accept that it’s our responsibility to get more out of that investment that the province has in the institutions for all kinds of economic, social and cultural reasons.”
Post Secondary education is much more than a sector of our economy, it is a required service for our youth. With out high quality PSE we limit our own children, you know the ones with Nova Scotia roots. Why is our priority educating youth from other provinces, why is the the economic spin of the university sector? Our priority needs to be structuring our PSE system so that is meets the needs of our youth who have been born and raised here and will want to stay here. We need to price it within the means of our families. If after that others can come here and get an education that is awesome. We are treating PSE like an industry, Universities like heritage sites that must be maintained in their current form. Yes we need to reduce costs but we cannot afford to keep our own students on the outside looking in,