Newly appointed New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) Executive Director Pat Joyce says that if the “unprecedented” tuition increase at St. Thomas University (STU) is allowed to go through he will be “going to government,” but insists all he can do for now is to wait.
Speaking by telephone from Fredericton, former two-time Mount Allison Students’ Union President Joyce addressed the issue of the provincial tuition cap policy.
“When universities are able to reject those recommendations and not face any consequences, that is definitely concerning,” he said.
STU came under scrutiny this past summer when it announced that it would ignore the provincial government’s tuition increase cap of $150 per annum and would instead opt for a $434 tuition increase for domestic students. This leaves the fate of STU and the issue of whether or not a university has the right to increase tuition up to the provincial government.
In spite of set provincial policy limits, STU was able to increase their tuition above the tuition cap because the cap is a policy and not a law. Joyce did not indicate that the NBSA would be lobbying tuition caps policy to be made into a law and said that “[the NBSA would] wait to see what decision the government is going to make.”
“The government cannot legislate this policy as they would be infringing on the university’s autonomy in running their business,” explained St. Thomas Student Union President Elizabeth Murphy.
Leaving the fate of this issue up to the province, Joyce insisted since coming into his position, “since [his appointment] we’ve certainly been ‘pressing the issue with government’ and making sure that the Department of Post-secondary Education, Training, and Labour is coming to “conclusions.” But he admitted, “I don’t know what the answer is going to be but regardless, a lot of the options on the table could set dangerous precedents which the students of NB will need to react to.”
Joyce stated that individual student unions will have to take leadership before the NBSA can act. “When it comes to the reaction for whatever decision is made, that is the role of the St. Thomas student union.” He stated that STU’s student union must take action, as the NBSA would not want to “impose on the autonomy” of any of its members.
“The board sets policy […] I’m here to help make their jobs easier and to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in Fredericton,” said Joyce. He said that some of responsibilities include meeting with politicians, speaking with media, and policy research.
Joyce said that St. Thomas’s tuition increase was entirely “unprecedented” both for the NBSA and the province in general and claims that this will be a learning experience for the NBSA, “we’ll base our future decisions or recommendations on what happens and take the opportunity to learn.”
One problem which was highlighted by the tuition increase crisis was that universities can say that they’ve consulted students on issues such as tuition increases because they have a student representative sitting on the boards governing universities. Joyce said he did not believe that amounted to a substantive consultation.
Joyce said the NBSA will be pushing a policy which would put university student unions in control of raising any mandatory non-academic fees.
Joyce added, “there is a role for student unions and the NBSA in making sure that we have strongly defined and well defined policies for things like what we consider to be acceptable or not acceptable tuition increases.”
Joyce indicated that the NBSA also intends to lobby for better regulation and consultation for students when it comes to increases in tuition and ancillary fees, increased student financial aid, elimination of interest on student loans and more job opportunities for students during the summer and after they graduate, adding the issue of student retention in the province is a concern.
Joyce commented that his hiring will “change the pace at which the organization operates” and that the future looks “bright” for the NBSA. But admits there are “a lot of challenges ahead.”