Last week’s student march on Province House has become an annual rite of the winter season, not unlike its usual accompanying, storm-tossed February headline salad: Monday’s “Traffic Gridlock Hits Halifax,” Tuesday’s “Halifax Digging out from Biggest Snowfall” to Friday’s cheerless end-of-first-week-of-the-month news “Snowfall Amounts for February in Halifax Almost Equal to January Total.”
Predictable. Depressing. Predictably depressing.
And then there was this non-storm-related Wednesday Metro headline: “Halifax University Students Protest, March, for Lower Tuition, More Government Funding.”
Predictable, and predictably depressing too.
Five hundred Halifax university students had marched through downtown to the legislature chanting slogans and carrying placards. “Grants not Loans.” “Education is a Right.”
The problem is that no one in government is listening. Again. Still.
I acknowledge I have a vested interest. I teach in one of those universities. I also serve on a college task force whose most pressing — and daunting — task is to wrestle our own projected $1.4-million deficit to zero.
The problem is clear. As Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan explained in announcing yet another review of the university system last fall, there’s a “not sustainable” $50-million chasm between what Nova Scotia universities need and what the province gives.
What she didn’t explain is that, during its terrm in office, the former NDP government slashed university grants by 10 per cent while restricting tuition increases to three per cent, effectively creating her breathlessly announced gap.
Stephen McNeil, as Opposition leader, had criticized the NDP’s approach. “They are going to try to download that blame to the universities when in actual fact, it is government that is causing this to happen,” he railed in 2012.
Now, he is doing the same. And worse. “Since being elected in October 2013,” notes a student press release, “the Liberals have increased tuition fees by three per cent, slashed funding to student assistance and failed to restore any of the $92.8 million cut from provincial university funding since 2011.”
Meanwhile, McNeil’s government is spending another $13 million ($41.5 million and climbing) for a never-sustainable ferry and north of $20 million on a botched Bluenose refit.
But what is most predictably depressing is that the students seem the only ones publicly defending the value of a university education.