The provincial government released its budget today and, despite dodging large cuts, UNB will still be in the red.  A grant freeze announced today will eat away at the the bottom lines of institutions across the province as inflation,  combined with a lower canadian dollar, will continue to drive up costs for universities and colleges.

Budget day is when the government announces its financial plan for the upcoming year, what it is going to spend our tax dollars on, how much taxes are going to be, how much hospitals are allowed to spend and whether or not they will toll the highways. This year the big announcements were an increase of 2% to the HST and cutting 1300 “middle” management jobs in the government itself.

Within the budget, the government outlined its plan for the universities and colleges in the province. Changes this year are as follows:
– A freeze on operating grants for Universities, (how nearly 2/3rds of the cost of education is covered)
– A cap on tuition hikes for domestic, in province students of two per-cent (how the other 1/3rd is covered)
– Renewed investments in student aid
– An intention to move to performance based funding
– The creation an Education and New Economy Fund

UNB has virtually no control over how much money is allocated to them from the government, so much so that they hire “government relations” personnel to lobby for them, and as such are very sensitive to changes in this funding.

In a letter to students, Dr. Campbell, president of UNB, stated that “Support for students and a strong focus on education, economic development and innovation through the creation of an Education and New Economy Fund—are clearly welcome.”

However, Campbell also outlined the current fiscal challenges for the university with de-facto reductions in their funding announced today: “With the operating grant freeze and tuition cap, I anticipate our deficit for 2016-17 could be more than $10 million without other actions by us to reduce this amount”.

The current operating budget for UNB is not rosy itself, already suffering from a projected $5 million deficit which the university claims is due to a current tuition freeze and declining enrollment (down 5.2% across the province this year).

Student reaction mixed

The New Brunswick Students Alliance (NBSA) was disappointed with the news of university operating grant freezes and tuition hikes, particularly to out-of-province students. However, they are optimistic about the positive tone around renewed student support.

“Knowing that significant reductions to university operating grants had been considered, we’re pleased to see government not making those cuts,” said Lindsay Handren, Executive Director of the NBSA. She continued, “However, by freezing operating grants and increasing tuition, it is placing more of the financial burden of pursuing a post-secondary education on students.”

According to the NBSA, New Brunswick ranks fourth in terms of tuition fees, and eighth out of the ten Canadian provinces in terms of per-student public funding to universities. Students graduating in New Brunswick with debt hold the highest average debt in Canada at $35,200.

Annie Sherry, NBSA Board Chair states that, “(NBSA) continue(s) to be concerned about the high debt levels and comparatively low levels of student financial aid here in New Brunswick.”