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KENDRA COOMBES: More support needed for universities and colleges in Nova Scotia

Kendra Coombes
Kendra Coombes

Nova Scotia’s universities are critical to what makes our province great and thousands of students call Nova Scotia home and play an important role in our communities. It is undeniable that they will need adequate support in order to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a crucial role for the provincial government to play as the most significant partner to our post-secondary sector. An important start would be to commit to reducing student tuition fees, increasing student bursaries for the coming academic year, committing to no layoffs in the higher-education sector, and guaranteeing no cuts to programs and services. These actions are what students, staff and faculty have called for to keep our universities in a strong position during our recovery from COVID-19.

Layoffs and cuts at our province’s universities will mean that they will be slow to bounce back and fulfill their important role in the recovery. Increasing tuition fees in the middle of a crisis will mean many students will lose access to education during a global crisis.

Chronic underfunding of universities and colleges is not a new issue, and is one the NDP continues to be concerned about. The latest funding agreement between the government and Nova Scotia’s universities allows for a three per cent tuition hike, unregulated international tuition fees and lacked serious input from faculty or students.

It is important to note that, to date, Stephen McNeil’s Liberals have committed no specific support to students - domestic or international - or to the post-secondary sector as a whole since the beginning of COVID-19.

The NDP has called for free tuition for all students at NSCC campuses, and a 10 per cent reduction in tuition fees over four years through direct funding to post-secondary institutions, with a goal of eventually eliminating tuition fees at Nova Scotia universities.

We also know that universities need accountable, transparent, diverse and responsive governance to meet the challenges ahead. That's why our caucus introduced a motion in the legislature's Human Resouces committee recently that would revise criteria for board appointments, and ensure diverse representation and anti-racist understandings on university boards. Unfortunately, it was rebuffed by the committee's Liberal majority.

The COVID-19 recovery will need all hands and minds on deck. Our universities and colleges are at the front lines of critical public health research, are essential drivers of learning and development in Nova Scotia and will be critical to meeting the challenges of the recovery as we move ahead.

Kendra Coombes is the labour and advanced education spokesperson for the NSNDP.

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