When it comes to depending on tuition to fund universities, B.C. is now the third most tuition-reliant province in the country following Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Statistics Canada data shows that, in the past decade, tuition has come to account for 40.3 per cent of funding for B.C. universities, up from just over 25 per cent in 1999, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ 2012-2013 Almanac of Post-Secondary Education. This marks the largest increase in tuition dependency of any province in Canada during that timespan.
While B.C. is still the province with the fourth-lowest tuition in Canada, responsibility is increasingly being put on the student, rather than the government, to fund post-secondary education.
Minister of Advanced Education John Yap says, for the province of B.C., there isn’t yet enough government money available to reduce the dependence on tuition.
“In an ideal world, we’d find ways to increase affordability,” said Yap. “Maybe the timing is not right in terms of the funding available.”
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a group that lobbies for lower tuition, says that B.C. needs to take measures to ensure the trend doesn’t continue. They hope B.C. can instead follow the example set by other Canadian provinces that have reduced their dependence on tuition fees — some by nearly 50 per cent in the past 10 years.
“What we’re seeing is an offloading of a public service onto a student demographic,” said CFS B.C. chairperson Katie Marocchi. “Other provinces, such as Newfoundland, have been taking measures to make sure post-secondary education is affordable and we advocate for the province of B.C. to do so as well.”
“In an ideal world, we’d find ways to increase affordability … maybe the timing is not right in terms of the funding available.”
Newfoundland decreased its dependency on tuition from 30 per cent in 1999 to 15.9 per cent in 2009. The prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba also reduced their dependency by about five per cent in the past 10 years.
Melanie Greene, a doctoral candidate studying post-secondary education at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said part of Newfoundland’s success story has to do with their unique position of only having a handful of publicly funded post-secondary institutions in the province.
But she also credits a provincial government push to increase access to higher education in 1999 that resulted in an ongoing tuition freeze. As a result, Newfoundland remains the province with the lowest tuition in the country aside from Quebec, whose low tuition rates only apply to residents of the province.
Student support has played a part in the continuation of Newfoundland’s freeze as well, says Greene. “Every time there is a budget coming through, we’re always pushing for a continued tuition [freeze].”
But the example set by Newfoundland is not likely to be mimicked here in the near future, as Minister Yap said he plans to focus on offering grants, rather than reducing tuition, in order to make university more affordable.
Marocchi thinks drastic action, such as freezing tuition entirely, is required to reverse this trend, or else more people in B.C. may decide against pursuing higher education.
“One of the biggest restrictions of people choosing not to get a post-secondary degree is financial reasons. People aren’t in the position where they can pay up front or don’t want to put themselves in a position of massive amounts of debt,” said Marocchi.
“There is an entire demographic that will be less likely to acquire a post-secondary education.”