PSE in Newfoundland and Labrador
Last March, Keith Dunne and I wrote an opinion piece on Danny Williams’ post-secondary education (PSE) legacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Among other things, we pointed out thatÂ average undergraduate tuition fees (for domestic students)Â in Newfoundland and Labrador are $2,624/yr.,Â compared with $5,138 for Canada as a wholeÂ and $6,307 in Ontario.
WithÂ a provincial election slated to take placeÂ in Newfoundland and Labrador on October 11, Newfoundland and Labrador’s NDP is proposing to take the province even further down the path of PSE affordability.
On Monday, the party released its PSE strategy. Within three years, it proposes to eliminate provincial student loans, and replace them with provincial student grants.
Right now, 40 percent of a PSE student’s loan in Newfoundland and Labrador comes from the provincial government (with the other 60 percent coming from the federal government). And just over half of the provincial component comes in the form of a grant (while the other part comes in the form of a loan).
The province’s NDP is proposing to increase the grant portion untilÂ fully 100 percent of the provincial component comes in the form of a grant, rather than a loan.Â If the party forms a government, they propose to immediately shift the grant portion to 75% of the provincial share of student aid. And within three years, the provincial share would be 100% grant-based (ergo: there would be no more newly-issuedÂ provincial student loans, only provincial grants).
The proposal would assist both undergraduate and graduate students. Both part-time and full-time students would be eligible.
(It should be noted that the student loan/grant program is needs-based.Â Â Students fromÂ households with an income of $140,000 or moreÂ are not eligible for assistance. International students are not eligible for the program either, though their tuition fees in the province are currently frozen.)
Given that Newfoundland and Labrador already has tuition fees that are considerably lower than the Canadian average, the Newfoundland and LabradorÂ NDP’s proposal is quite extraordinary. If Danny Williams shifted PSE affordability into turbo, Newfoundland and Labrador’s New DemocratsÂ are proposing to rockÂ itÂ into Mach 1.
I think the status of the PSE affordability debateÂ in Newfoundland and Labrador has at leastÂ four important implications for the rest of Canada.
First, the upward trajectory of tuition fees and student debt experienced by much of Canada over the past two decadesÂ is not an inevitability. Nor are we at or near the last stage of some sort of ‘evolutionary’ process in the sector. Rather, what goes up can also go down. There are always choices.
Second, any political party can make substantial progress on the PSE affordability front. Progress in Newfoundland and Labrador began under the Liberal government of Brian Tobin in 1999. ItÂ then moved into overdriveÂ under his successor Roger GrimesÂ (also a Liberal). ItÂ thenÂ shifted into turboÂ duringÂ the Progressive Conservative government of Danny Williams.
Third, the NDPÂ (in any province) always has theÂ option of pushingÂ the envelope on PSE affordability, even when the status quo may make that seem redundant. Newfoundland and Labrador’s NDP could have sat back in this election campaign and relied on their reputation as aÂ progressive party. Instead, they’ve proposed to take Newfoundland and Labrador even further down the road of PSE affordability.
Contrast this with Ontario, where an election campaign is also underway, and where tuition fees are currently the highest in the country.Â The Ontario NDP has responded byÂ proposing to freeze tuition fees at their current levels andÂ to eliminate theÂ interest on the provincial portion of student loans.Â The NDP hasÂ estimated that the latter measure would save the average student $60 per year on a $25,000 debt. (To put that into perspective, the undergraduate tuition grant being proposed in the Ontario Liberal platform would be worth $1,600 per full-time undergraduateÂ university student per year.)
Finally, voters like to seeÂ PSE made more affordable. When Danny Williams’ retired from politics after making great stridesÂ on PSEÂ affordability, Angus Reidâ€™s vice-president said that Williamsâ€™ popularity was â€œextraordinary by Canadian standards.â€ And in response to a Harris-Decima poll taken last month in Newfoundland and Labrador, 84 percent of respondents saidÂ they support “having the provincial government gradually increase its funding to college and university to the point where it provides free education through to the end of college/university.”
Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant. He has a PhD in public policy.