Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Mat Whynott (Chairman)
Ms. Pam Birdsall
Mr. Brian Skabar
Mr. Maurice Smith
Mr. Leonard Preyra
Hon. Michel Samson
Ms. Kelly Regan
Hon. Christopher d'Entremont
Mr. Allan MacMaster
[Mr. Brian Skabar was replaced by Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon.]
[Mr. Maurice Smith was replaced by Ms. Michele Raymond.]
[Hon. Michel Samson was replaced by Mr. Andrew Younger.]
Ms. Jana Hodgson
Legislative Committee Clerk
Ms. Karen Kinley
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2011
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Mat Whynott
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm going to call the meeting of the Human Resources Committee for February 8th to order. The clock on the wall says we're just a few minutes early but the clock I have here says 1:00 p.m., so we're going to go with this clock.
We'll ask the members of the committee to go around and introduce themselves and their constituency, just for the record.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perfect, thank you. We're just going to go over the agenda very quickly. For our presenters we have our appointments to agencies, boards and commissions that we'll go through, it's very short today so it shouldn't take too long. Then we will go to our presenters from the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition. Then, of course, we will more than likely break for about three or four minutes to let the presenters leave and then we have committee business afterwards.
Without further ado, we'll move to our agencies, boards and commissions, please. I'm going to begin with Ms. Birdsall, the Department of Agriculture.
MS. PAM BIRDSALL: Mr. Chairman, I so move that Leonard J. Cox be appointed as a member and chair, and Angela Hunter and Victor Moses as members of the Farm Loan Board of Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The Department of Economic and Rural Development. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I so move that David R. Chisholm be appointed as a director of the Board of Directors of the Waterfront Development Corporation Limited.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Thank you, so without further ado, we'll ask the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition to introduce themselves, and also welcome to all our visitors here with us today who are listening to our proceedings, so over to you.
MS. REBECCA ROSE: Do you just want us to do introductions?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You do your introductions and then you can begin on your presentation, then we will have questions and answers afterwards.
[The committee witnesses introduced themselves.]
MS. ROSE: I believe I am going first, so good afternoon everyone. My name is Rebecca Rose and I am the Maritimes Organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students.
First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee for having our three organizations as witnesses today. Together the Canadian Federation of Students Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, and the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers represent students, staff, and faculty at university and college campuses across the province.
It's is quite appropriate that we're presenting today, just one week after the government announced its plans to increase tuition fees and cut funding for our universities, and less than a week after thousands of students and our supporters took to the streets in Halifax, Wolfville, and Pointe-de-l'Église, to call on the government to reduce tuition fees, provide more funding to our universities, and provide more non-repayable grants to students.
While the government has suggested that by allowing tuition fees to increase at a controlled rate they are protecting students, I can say with great confidence that students know that a policy of high tuition fees is the wrong path for Nova Scotia.
While government may be feeling the fiscal impacts of an economic recession, students and their families have been facing the fiscal impacts of high fees for several decades. We shouldered the burden of high fees when the province had a surplus and now we're being asked to shoulder even more of the burden as government retreats from its responsibility to fund quality public services.
I would like to start today by disputing some of the arguments that you folks were presented with a couple of weeks ago by Dr. Tim O'Neill at this committee. I understand that Dr. O'Neill was here to discuss the recommendations included in the report that he wrote on the university system in Nova Scotia. While I don't want to eat up a lot of time debunking each and every myth presented by Dr. O'Neill, as it is a 188-page document, I do think that if we are to have a productive discussion here at the committee it is important to address some of the more damaging myths contained within.
Firstly, while Dr. O'Neill contends that tuition fees do not impact access for low-income populations, research presents a different picture. Statistics Canada found that in 2009 youth from families with income above $100,000 per year were twice as likely to enrol in university than youth from families with incomes of $75,000 or less - twice as likely.
Dr. O'Neill also contends that the impact of tuition fees on university participation is modest, noting that while participation amongst low-income Aboriginal and African-Canadian youth and youth living with disabilities continues to be low, financial barriers are not the most significant.
Once again research disputes Dr. O'Neill's claims. A recent Statistics Canada report found that 32 per cent of youth aged 18 to 24 years were not pursuing the education or training that they needed or wanted, with the majority of them citing financial reasons as the primary factor. Dr. O'Neill specifically points to family educational attainment as an important factor in determining whether people choose to attend post-secondary education but does not look at how parental educational attainment is connected to income and ability to pay for post-secondary education. This is a glaring oversight.
Recently the MPHEC - the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission - specifically discussed their use of parental educational attainment as a proxy for family income because the data they received from family income is inconsistent. Secondly, we would like to dispute claims that reducing tuition fees represents a transfer of income from low-income Nova Scotians to upper-income Nova Scotians. Dr. O'Neill's analysis of this situation fails to take into account the fact that Nova Scotia has a progressive taxation system where higher-income earners pay a high tax rate.
The result of this system is that higher-income households pay a higher share of public funding for universities. When higher tuition fees replace public dollars low- and middle-income families are carrying more of the burden of the cost of university through the
flat tax, which is what it is, a flat tax of tuition fees. Conversely, when public funding is increased and tuition fees are reduced, low- and middle-income earners pay the fair share based on the income tax system.
I would also like to say quickly that it is a mistake to constantly portray taxpayers and students as people with opposing interests. A couple of weeks ago you heard from Tim O'Neill, ". . . universities are not going to be exempt from the impact of that fiscal restraint, however welcome or unwelcome that may be to those who have a particular interest in what happens to the university system in that regard." But who are we talking about when we say the people with particular interests?
Surely, Dr. O'Neill is referring to the 40,000 or so students and the tens of thousands of Nova Scotians employed by the university sector and its spinoffs, but is he also talking about employers, including the provincial government, who rely on a steady stream of skilled workers, the tens of thousands of parents of university students, potential university students and future university students? It doesn't take long, obviously, to recognize that the number of people who have a particular interest in the university system in Nova Scotia is quite vast actually. Nova Scotian voters, in fact, support the kind of university system that students, staff and faculty advocate for.
In our most recent public opinion polling conducted by Opinion Search research in late December and early January, 83 per cent of Nova Scotians surveyed supported tuition fee reductions. Also, 83 per cent were concerned that young graduates would have to leave the province for higher wages because of high student debt. Two-thirds of Nova Scotians also believed that grants are the best way to provide student financial assistance.
There has been a lot of discussion about how to ensure that the Nova Scotia post-secondary education system is equitable. The government and Dr. O'Neill have both suggested that providing targeted financial aid by capping student debt is a better way of controlling debt than ensuring the equitable access to post-secondary education.
A debt-based model of funding post-secondary education, even if that is a debt-based system with a debt cap, is at its heart inequitable. Such a model requires low- and middle-income students to take on debt in order to pay for their education. This means that those students who are able to pay for their fees up front actually face less of a financial burden than those students who are forced to borrow money because these people end up paying their loan principal, plus interest. Continuing to base our post-secondary education system on student debt maintains a system where low-income people actually pay more for their education than those able to pay the high, upfront costs and this is neither fair nor equitable.
We agree with Dr. O'Neill that people who can afford to pay more for public services should pay for a larger share of the costs of those services. We believe that this should be done through a progressive income tax system and not through tuition fees. Those students
who benefit from larger private gains from a university education will contribute more significantly to the public purse through their taxes.
In addition to the ethical questions that I've highlighted already the inaccessibility issue also endangers the economic and social health of this province. When graduates leave school with mortgage-sized debt loads it impacts their ability to own homes, start families, save for the future and contribute to their communities and the economy. Large student debt loads also force graduates to leave Nova Scotia for provinces with higher wages in order to pay for these debts. I know from personal experience that this is the case, being from Nova Scotia.
Reducing the upfront costs of post-secondary education through progressive tuition fee reductions and increasing funding to post-secondary education can help reduce student debt, obviously, and stem out-migration of youth. Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, has significantly cut the number of student borrowers and the average debt loads of those who do borrow through reducing the upfront costs of post-secondary education and providing more grants. Such an approach also garners efficiencies within the government's expenditures.
By reducing tuition fees the government pays less money in in-study interest, in repayment assistance and costs associated with student loan defaults, and in various programs and community services, and workforce and labour development that provide assistance for retraining. Through such an approach where tuition fees are reduced and controlled through legislation the government is also able to plan and control expenditures in the Student Assistance Program. Unfortunately, neither Dr. O'Neill nor the Department of Education has seriously explored or modelled what impact reducing tuition fees would have on economic growth or government costs in either the short or long term.
While Dr. O'Neill made the political decision not to consider a situation in which tuition fees were reduced because " . . . a government contemplating broad fiscal restraint is unlikely to consider enhancing further the subsidy required to drive tuition fees below the national average.", he does make recommendations regarding student financial assistance that if implemented would require the government to incur additional costs. Dr. O'Neill, however, fails to assess the magnitude of these costs in his paper.
We hope that given the time between now and the provincial budget, the government will be able to reconsider its current path that will continue a legacy of high fees and inadequate funding in the province and instead invest in Nova Scotia by striving for a well-funded, quality, and affordable system of post-secondary education. Thank you.
MR. CHRIS FERNS: I would also like to thank the committee for its invitation. Just a little bit about our organization. ANSUT has been in existence since 1997, it currently represents academic staff at all of the degree-granting institutions in Nova Scotia with the
exception of Dalhousie and the Agricultural College, so we represent more than half the faculty in Nova Scotia.
Going back to January of last year, the government announced the launch of a campaign to make Nova Scotia Canada's university capital. We see this as a goal that's certainly consistent with the policies the NDP advocated while in Opposition and it's certainly one that students, faculty, and staff would all endorse.
What I'm concerned about is what seems to us to be a disconnect between that stated strategy and the policies just announced with regard to funding, with both tuition fee increases in excess of inflation for the next three years and a 4 per cent cut in funding to universities this year, with further decreases to be negotiated in the future. I'm not going to focus on the issue of tuition fees which my colleague has already addressed, but what I'd like to focus on more is the likely impact of cuts in government funding to post-secondary education.
First of all, going back to the poll that has already been referred to, we point out that cuts in government funding to post-secondary education run contrary to the express wishes of Nova Scotians. Two-thirds of the respondents indicated in our recent poll that government funding should make up a larger proportion of the university funding not a smaller one, but what is the consequence of such cuts? I would like to point out we've been down this route before.
Back in the 1990s, we had dramatic cuts to government funding and what that indicated, I think, was you can't do that without compromising quality. The last time around the consequences were, in the 1990s, that there was a decline in the number of full-time faculty, increases in class sizes, and an increased reliance on poorly-paid contract workers to pick up the slack. I could go on at greater length about what kind of consequences you have when you follow that route, but I'll proceed to some other issues that I'd like to address briefly.
Are there economies that can be made? Well, it's possible, but I think one does have to bear in mind the extent of the challenges that our university system already faces. The excellence of our faculty, the consistently high levels of student satisfaction reported in the most recent MPHEC study testified to our success in recruiting high-quality faculty, despite our salaries in the region being lower than the national average, despite our student fees historically being higher than the national average, we have succeeded in importing large numbers of students from elsewhere, from both Canada and abroad, to the extent that roughly 40 per cent of our student population is from out of province. I think that does demonstrate that we are already succeeding in doing more with less, but I think the fact is that there simply isn't the fat to cut.
Now, the O'Neill report did make a variety of suggestions with regard to amalgamations and mergers, putting together sort of common services, et cetera, and I think my colleague from the NSGEU can talk about some of the impacts of that. What I was struck by is that CONSUP, the university presidents, in their submission to the Minister of Education last November did suggest that this was an area where further cost savings could be made. What I found significant about that was the omission of what would strike us as being a more significant area for economies to be made, namely in the area of senior administration. Surprisingly enough, the president didn't see fit to talk about that as a potential cost saving.
The evidence from all of our campuses is that there has been a steady proliferation in the number of senior administrators, in many cases accompanied by anomalously high increases in compensation for the individuals involved.
Our organization has consistently advocated the institution of a common and transparent financial reporting category. It would allow for a clear understanding of the proportion of university expenditures devoted to instruction and research, the core missions of universities, and also provide reliable comparative data between institutions because often it is very hard to tell exactly where the money is going when it comes to senior administration. I think such mechanisms would provide for improved safeguards with guaranteed efficiency. Without such safeguards, as I say, the likeliest outcomes of across-the-board cuts in university funding will simply be to reduce the number of full-time faculty, reduce support services with only minimal reductions in administrative costs. So while students will be paying more, year by year, the quality of the education they receive will be increasingly compromised.
I think there have been plenty of studies indicating the extent of the economic contribution that universities make to the Nova Scotia economy, leaving aside the fact that university education is becoming increasingly a prerequisite for employment. The fact that we attract the number of students that we do from outside of the province is already an economic benefit. If you want to put it crudely, this is good for business. These are people who are not just coming off a cruise ship for a few hours, they are not people who are just coming to a convention for a few days, they are people who actually stay in the province. The economic benefits of attracting those people are considerable.
One Department of Education study recently indicated with regard to international students that for every dollar spent by the government there was an economic return of $3.40. These are precisely the students who won't benefit from any student assistance program the government is currently meditating. We are creating barriers to access, we're not removing them.
So what alternatives might there be? One of the things we would point to, and which the poll we commissioned would endorse, is that perhaps the best way to go is not to cut
services but to increase revenues. Would such an approach find favour with the public? What we would point out is that one finding of our recent poll was that when asked if people would be prepared to pay more income tax if it meant assuring more affordable post-secondary education, nearly 60 per cent of the respondents said yes.
I think we do need to be aware that what we're doing by increasing tuition fees is effectively imposing a discriminatory tax upon the young. In doing so, these are conscious decisions made by people who themselves had access to affordable education. I would argue that looking at tax cuts that benefit people in the higher-income brackets, in the brackets to which decision makers belong, at the expense of their children's generation, is simply unethical. I can't in all conscience, as somebody who myself had access to free education when I was a student in England, I cannot see that this is in any way fair or justifiable.
One last comment I would like to add to that. I was struck by a comment made by President Obama just over a week ago where he was talking about how, in times of economic hardship, the very last thing you want to be doing is cutting budgets to education. He compared it to trying to find a strategy to deal with an airplane that was overloaded and suggested that it was rather like some bright spark coming up with the idea of removing one of the engines to save weight. I would argue that is precisely what's going on when we cut educational funding. Thank you.
MS. ZITA HILDEBRANDT: Good afternoon, I am Zita Hildebrandt and I work at Dalhousie University but I am here as a representative of the NSGEU and its Post-Secondary Education Occupational Council. I want to express regrets for NSGEU President Joan Jessome, who could not attend this meeting due to prior commitments out of town.
I want to assure you that as the largest union in the province, we are no stranger to post-secondary education. We represent almost 2,000 women and men who work as support staff in seven universities and with the Nova Scotia Community College. Our members work in the universities and community colleges as library staff, as clerical and administrative support, in technical positions, in labs, and in maintenance and trades. We also represent faculty at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and instructors at Cape Breton University.
We are very pleased to be here as part of the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition, along with CFS-NS and ANSUT. Together we have worked to raise the profile and increase funding and accessibility for post-secondary education. We've made submissions to legislative committees, met with elected members and candidates from all Parties and organized election forums. One of the key roles the coalition has used to lobby and speak out has been the results of three provincial polls, each poll consisting of 800 Nova Scotians, conducted in 2005, 2007, and December 2010.
Our members are especially concerned with the rising costs for students they serve every day. In the three polls which the coalition has conducted we have asked about the
personal impact of tuition fees and other costs. In the most recent poll we asked if you or someone in your family had to drop out of college or university because they couldn't afford the tuition fees and other costs. We also asked if you or someone in your family decided not to attend college or university because it would mean taking on too much debt; 15 per cent said they or someone in their family had to drop out due to high costs and 32 per cent said they or someone in their family decided not to attend due to having to take on too much debt.
What is really significant here is that the answers to these two questions are almost exactly the same in all three polls. This means that consistently at least one-third of Nova Scotians are not able to participate in post-secondary education due to high costs. What is worse, this situation has not changed in five years. Clearly, no government can say that they have made major gains to make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable. Much more comprehensive support from government is needed.
Our coalition's most recent poll also shows how much the work of our members, as support staff in secondary education, is valued. Almost 90 per cent of the people polled felt that support services, such as academic advising and library services in post-secondary education are important. In addition, approximately 65 per cent thought there should be more of these services. Post-secondary education institutions could not function without the services of support staff and yet it has been our experience that they are almost always the first group of staff to be affected whenever budget cutbacks are being made.
We are quite concerned about what will happen in response to the government's university funding plan that was announced on February 1st. Not only did the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education announce an annual cap of 3 per cent for tuition increases and a 4 per cent reduction in government grant funding for universities for the 2011-12 academic year, she also said she was confident in the ability of Nova Scotia's universities to come up with what she called realistic and innovative solutions to ensure their future viability.
If the government and universities look to the O'Neill report, this might mean more moves for administrative, so-called back-office integration, more outsourcing and contracting out of internally provided services, restraint in operating expenditures, and institutional restructuring initiatives. However, I can tell you that our members have already had lots of experience with each of these initiatives and frankly, it's questionable whether or not they produce any savings.
For example, the so-called Dal-TUNS merger is still causing bad feelings and animosity; in fact, there are separate services on both campuses. This merger has produced few if any cost savings. The same can be said of the earlier proposed merger of the Atlantic School of Theology with Saint Mary's University. Even though a complete amalgamation did not fully happen there was a huge expense to harmonize services such as purchasing, administration, IT, registration and library acquisitions with few, if any, cost savings.
For outsourcing, we have already outsourced payroll, custodial and food services, financial services, purchasing, IT support and Web services. Again, there appear to be savings at first, but there are also additional costs such as the cost of changeover and the cost of no on-site response capability. In addition, the new contracted-out service may not be comparable to what was in-house previously.
If universities want to be innovative we urge them to conduct management audits and examine how top-heavy each institution has become. Removing one vice-president could mean a number of vital, front-line support staff could be hired. We presented our analysis and possible solutions to Dr. O'Neill when we met with him in April, but by September he seemed to have completely forgotten our meeting and what we said to him.
Another important area where we disagree with Dr. O'Neill is the potential for lifelong learning. He seemed to think there is little value in exploring its potential due to its historically low participation rates. However, we think he took a very limited view of its potential. Lifelong learning must become an integral part of our post-secondary education system. If, as stated by UNESCO, lifelong learning is the key to the 21st Century, it must be treated with much greater importance and funded accordingly.
Dedicated funding for lifelong learning, such as for financial aid for part-time students and for non-credit courses, is essential. Barriers to the participation of persons on social assistance in post-secondary education must be removed. A provincial program of paid educational leave for all working people is long overdue.
In conclusion, what the O'Neill report recommended and what the government has recently announced are major steps backward for the future of post-secondary education. In the view of front-line staff in universities and in the view of the largest union in the province, this is not the time for major reductions, amalgamations, outsourcing, privatization or downsizing in the name of moving back to balance.
We need progressive and determined leadership to make the necessary investment to post-secondary education if Nova Scotia is truly to become Canada's university capital and not Canada's university backwater. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We will now move to questions and answers. Typically we leave about 10 minutes before 3:00 p.m., so that we can do our committee business, so we have a good chunk of time here. I'm going to begin with Mr. Preya, then Ms. Regan and then Mr. Younger.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Thank you all for coming. I do find myself in an odd position here because, as Chris will remember, in 1997 I was one of three people at the table
that actually established this coalition and Ian Johnson was representing the NSGEU at the time and Danielle Sampson was representing the CFS. At that time we set ourselves two objectives and one of them was to bring tuition at or below the national average at the time, I think it was about $2,000 higher, and also to establish a more robust student loan program up front.
In a sense we've kind of come full circle, we're still dealing with those issues, but Chris was talking about the Party's commitment to those goals and they pretty well remain unchanged. There's no doubt that the universities and colleges represent a great asset to Nova Scotia, it brings students from all over the world to us, they're engines for economic growth and productivity. I don't think anyone disagrees with that, the question of securing access to post-secondary education, creating good jobs in Nova Scotia of innovation and doing that within our means, that's the big challenge.
As you know, the bursary program which we were advocating for at that time, we wanted the Martin Government to dedicate that money for a tuition freeze, and after much pressure they did. That money has expired, the freeze money has expired, and we've committed to putting $29 million into supporting that bursary that is now coming out of general revenues. So the question of the commitment of the Party and the government to access remains, it's just a question of how we do it.
I did have a question for Chris, because as I said, I'm still a faculty member at Saint Mary's on leave and I'm also a member of the governing Party. I wanted to ask about some of the issues you raised about senior administration, you didn't mention pensions, but clearly that's a big issue at the universities. Dr. O'Neill's argument about bilateral agreements, the universities essentially decide for themselves how they want to organize their internal affairs and it seems to me that on one hand your proposal is calling for us to be a little bit more active in that field, or on the other hand you have all the conventions of tenure and collective bargaining that say we should let the universities organize their internal affairs in a way that meets their purposes. I'm wondering, how do we address some of those issues without contravening the other principle, even if we agree with the fact that some of these things need to be looked at?
MR. FERNS: I think what you focus on is the fact that universities are in a kind of anomalous position, they're neither fish nor fowl, but sometimes they're public institutions when it comes to cutting resources to them, when it comes to actually looking at what realistic possibilities there are for efficiencies in their independent institutions and one doesn't want to mess with that.
One of the strategies that we have advocated in the past there was, commissioned by the MPHEC something like 10 years ago, a pilot costing study trying to look at how you could actually establish common reporting categories which would allow for transparency
and consistency in looking at those expenses, as opposed to actually having simply anecdotal data from campus by campus.
One of the things we have when comparing notes with our colleagues or the universities is that, number one, there's a consistent pattern of increases in senior administrative hiring, there's a consistent pattern in what you might call administrative creep, whereby people who were once directors are now associate vice-presidents with a concomitant increase in salaries.
Certainly, with our Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy requests that we've made on various campuses, it would appear that remuneration for senior administrators has been going up by considerably more than that for either support staff or for faculty. There it would seem to me an indication that there's significant room for cost containment if the reliable data was there.
I think a lot of the other things that Dr. O'Neill refers to in his report didn't actually make a lot of sense to us. For example, when we were talking to him, when we were talking to the Department of Education, when we were talking to the Minister of Education, we've repeatedly asked why it was that any suggestion we made with regard to administrative cost savings were ignored in his report. His response, such as it was, was really that there was no evidence that administrative costs or the proportion of administrative costs is out of line with the national average.
Our response to that would be twofold. One reason there's no evidence is because it's very hard to find the evidence because it's buried in different categories in different university budgets. Even allowing for that assumption, that the proportion is in line with the rest of Canada, I don't see how that is a rationale for not examining how it might be cut because, after all, student fees have historically been higher than the national average and his recommendation is to increase them. Faculty salaries have historically been and continue to be below the national average and he identifies this as a cost to be contained. It seems to be that if one is looking for economies there is one area that is glaringly looking us in the face and there are mechanisms that could be employed to ensure that there would be efficiencies in that particular regard.
MR. PREYRA: Can I have a follow-up question?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Why don't we go to Ms. Regan, since you've had the floor for about 10 minutes. Ms. Regan.
MS. KELLY REGAN: The week before the government came out with their announcement and the week before your big protest, I thought it was very interesting that MUN had a very large ad in The ChronicleHerald and it says, "Small Campus. BIG Adventure. If you're looking for . . . an affordable education, a challenging degree program,
small classes . . ." et cetera, they're offering full one-semester tuition scholarships for every Nova Scotia high school valued at $1,275, which tells you what a semester costs in Newfoundland, and you can win a $500 travel bursary. I'm just wondering, has MUN's low tuition had any impact on the number of Nova Scotian students heading to MUN? If so, what does that tell us? Ms. Kennedy, maybe you could address that. (Interruption) I'm sorry, Ms. Rose.
MS. ROSE: Yes, absolutely. I'm assuming people in the room are somewhat familiar with the situation in Newfoundland and Labrador, we're intimately familiar as we work with the students there. Actually a lot of the students who are now leading the student movement in Newfoundland and Labrador are Nova Scotian students, particularly one comes to mind who is from Cape Breton, who actually left to go to Newfoundland and Labrador because fees were cheaper and she talks about that on a pretty regular basis.
Newfoundland and Labrador made the decision - because they were seeing a lot of out-migration of youth and low-income and middle-income people were having a hard time accessing post-secondary education - to first reduce tuition fees by 25 per cent and then to freeze them at that level. That was in 1999 that they froze tuition fees and they have been frozen ever since.
There are other measures that have been implemented, such as putting more money into a grants program. They've also gotten rid of interest on all of their student loans, the provincial portion anyway. So between 1999 and 2007, broadly speaking, the amount of Maritimes students going to Memorial University went up 800 per cent. Then more specifically to Nova Scotia, to this province, as we're a bit closer, between 1999 and 2007 it went up tenfold. In 1999 there were 64 Nova Scotian students at Memorial University in Newfoundland and in 2007 there were 725, so the Nova Scotia club there grew at a pretty large rate. So yes, it has absolutely had an impact but it has also had an impact on the amount of Newfoundland and Labrador students coming into Nova Scotia - I don't have the stat right in front of me but I know that the amount coming in has also decreased.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, Ms. Regan, I just want to ask you if you could table that document.
MS. REGAN: I want to keep it because I want to use it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, you have to table it if you're using it.
MS. REGAN: I'll get it copied for you, no problem.
Mr. Ferns - or I guess Dr. Ferns?
MR. FERNS: I believe so, yes.
MS. REGAN: Could you perhaps speak to what that means for Nova Scotia universities, in terms of their ability to attract students at a time when we're hearing that the cohort of potential students is going to decrease radically over the next number of years? For example, here in Nova Scotia tuition is quite a bit higher than in other jurisdictions, how much more difficult, I guess, would it be for us to attract students if we're dealing with the economic realities where they can take a ferry - our students here can take a ferry - and they can be going for just over $1,000 a semester, versus what it costs here in Nova Scotia?
MR. FERNS: I think it's a significant challenge and one that is increasing. I'm thinking back to the O'Neill report with these very gloomy scenarios about declining enrolments. That, in fact, has not, broadly speaking, been borne out so far. But if one is looking at a situation where our fees continue to increase, well, the competition from Newfoundland and Labrador becomes more and more rigorous. I would suggest that really this document would not be simply offering a way of managing decline but would actually be a way of precipitating it.
Thinking about what the Newfoundland and Labrador Government strategy is, clearly they have some economic resources that we do not have but I think they're making a very wise decision in investing those in the future. One of the things I also noticed is that along with the reductions to fees, there have been dramatic increases in compensation for faculty, reflecting the fact that we do have to compete nationally, not just with other small universities but with the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto. Effectively what they're doing is trying to attract students, and doing so successfully, but at the same time also ensuring that they can attract high-quality faculty, so in a way you might suggest that the Newfoundland Government strategy is to make Newfoundland Canada's university capital.
MS. REGAN: Thank you. During 2006, now-Premier Darrell Dexter campaigned on a platform of reducing tuition fees by 10 per cent but last week we found out, in fact, that our tuition fees are going to increase 10 per cent.
I'm wondering, Ms. Rose, how do you feel about the NDP's change of heart with respect to lowering tuition fees?
MS. ROSE: As you've noticed or as you've pointed out, in the past, the NDP on past platforms had promised to reduce tuition fees. Last week we found out that they were going up by 3 per cent and that funding was going to be cut by 4 per cent. Actually students found out through a ChronicleHerald journalist, we actually weren't told by government. That's something else to bring up, that we found out the night before from a journalist that this was going to be happening. We haven't been consulted in any way about these tuition increases or the cuts to funding.
I think it was pretty clear last Wednesday, February 2nd, how students feel about that, so if folks weren't turning on their TVs or reading the newspaper or going on the Internet or accessing their Twitter on that day or the day after, we had the biggest Student Day of Action in this province in probably about a decade, I would say, and some were saying it was one of the biggest protests in this province in about the same time, one of the top ones.
We had, the police are now estimating, between 2,000 and 3,000 students. The last estimate was 3,000 students in the streets of Halifax who came out to call on government to increase funding to universities, increase the amount of grants that they are able to access and also to reduce tuition fees, obviously. In Pointe-de-l'Église we had about 100 students, which is one-fifth of their entire university population. At Acadia we actually had about 200 students in Wolfville who also came out for that same thing.
I think it's pretty clear how people feel about the tuition fee increases. Quite a few students that day talked about how disappointed they were because a lot of students actually did vote for the NDP in the last election, because of their education platform, and now are not sure what they are going to do in the future. I think we saw that in our polling as well, not just students though.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
MS. REGAN: Could I just make a clarification? I think there was a little confusion as to how I came up with the 10 per cent number, which is 3 per cent over three years when you add the 3 per cent on, cumulative, it comes out to 9.6 per cent, so just to make that clear to the members opposite.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Younger.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for your presentations. I want to read to you a couple of comments and maybe get your thoughts with it. One - this was said back in 2006: Instead of scratching their heads or pointing fingers between departments, the government needs to be making a clear commitment to reduce tuition.
Do you think that is what the government should be doing now?
MS. ROSE: Reducing tuition fees?
MR. YOUNGER: Yes, and making a commitment to that. That was the member for Halifax Citadel, in 2006 he said that. Now, of course, they are going in the other direction.
My colleague here talked about Memorial University. In 2006, the now-Premier said to The ChronicleHerald, "There is something inherently wrong when a Nova Scotia student can study at Memorial University in Newfoundland for a significantly lower cost . . ." Would you agree with that statement?
MS. ROSE: Yes.
MR. YOUNGER: So how do you feel about the fact that the Premier has obviously changed his mind?
MS. ROSE: Oh, there's a theme. Again, I think that students are pretty disappointed in this shift that has happened since 2006 until now. We've actually dug up a whole bunch of those quotes and there are more quotes, talking about how we can't saddle our students with debt and how we're robbing students of their future when we don't provide adequate funding to post-secondary education, and we agree with all of those things. I guess what I want to say is that we understand that budgeting is not easy. Anyone who has made a budget - whether it be for a government, a student union or a personal budget - knows that budgeting is about choices and it's about priorities, and students understand that as well.
What we're asking the government to do is make investing in post-secondary education and reducing tuition fees a priority. We know there's money for other initiatives. We've been seeing funding announcements for various other things and discussion of more funding announcements for more upcoming things like a new stadium, I think I'm hearing about a lot, or some sort of sports facility. Students really want post-secondary education to be a priority and a lot of students, like I said, voted for the government for that very reason, as they were promised that it would be a priority. So I think they want to see that going forward.
As we've seen in our polling, 88 per cent of Nova Scotians think that post-secondary education has to be a high priority in this province and 83 per cent - I cannot say this number enough - 83 per cent of Nova Scotians believe in reducing tuition fees. Those are fantastic numbers. When we looked at the national poll commissioned last year, 90 per cent of Atlantic Canadians believed in either freezing or reducing tuition fees, but now that we've talked to Nova Scotians specifically, we see that 83 per cent of Nova Scotians actually believe in flat-out reducing tuition fees and are willing to pay more taxes to do that, which I think is pretty impressive.
MR. YOUNGER: I tend to agree, it does come to priorities and I could spend hours going through different things that current members of the government have said in the past, even as late as last year, but I won't just for time. One of the things that does concern me - and I'm hoping to also have time to get to the issue of actual faculty salaries, as well, so hopefully we'll get there - but one I wanted to ask about is it seems that Dr. O'Neill suggested that higher debt levels are okay, that they can be managed afterwards and by
allowing tuitions to increase and funding to universities to decrease, that seems to be a tacit acceptance of that.
About a week ago Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, said that Canadians could overextend themselves and they could get into a position where debts that are sustainable at low interest rates prove unsustainable when rates return to more normal levels. He actually mentioned in his talk that student debt is a major burden and an issue that can crush the Canadian economy, and obviously that would apply to Nova Scotia as well. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on that debt load issue and in terms of - I don't know whether you talk about it in terms of an economic growth issue or just in terms of that debt level, especially with the warnings we've now had from the Bank of Canada.
MS. ROSE: Nova Scotia students have the highest student debt loads in the country at around $31,000, but that's just public debt. That doesn't include the debt that people are taking from banks, lines of credit, from family, from friends, and whatever other way they're able to borrow that money. Anyone who knows several students, you've probably anecdotally heard of those stories where people are getting the money to pay for their education.
The MPHEC, I believe, recently came out with a stat that said in the Maritimes, student debt is approximately $37,000. Again from the MPHEC, we're seeing that from one of their last studies they did, they followed the class - as they often do - of 2003, five years on. Of the people who had $30,000 in student debt - and that number had increased - 21 per cent had still not been able to dip under that $30,000 line. So it's not the student debt of my parents' generation where my parents were luckily able to pay off their student debt in 10 years - and it was difficult for them, I've heard the stories - but people are not able to pay off their student debt in the amount of time that the older generation did.
Student debt has immense consequences. Not only does it have immense consequences for the individual, obviously, but it has immense consequences for our society. Think of how much more graduates would be able to volunteer and get involved, whether that be just in their communities or even politically, if they didn't have that kind of student debt on their shoulders, but also on the economy. Like I said, students who have $31,000 in debt when they're graduating are not going to invest in a house, invest in a car, start a family, or even start a small business - which we all want to see, more local, small businesses starting up and breathing life into our economy here in Halifax but also in Nova Scotia - so it has immense impacts on every aspect of our lives. I think Chris wanted to . . .
MR. FERNS: From the point of view of someone who has been teaching in Nova Scotia since 1987, one of the things that I find distressing is the impact this has visibly had on the quality of education. Not that what we're teaching is any worse and not that the students are any less able, but more and more you see students who can't do justice to themselves because of the economic pressures on them. The amount of part-time work
they're doing is increasing, has increased astronomically over 20 years. You're finding people who just don't have enough hours in the day to do justice to their studies.
There's also the whole other aspect of university life which you learn from, from all the other activities you can engage in. One of the things we find with a lot of the stuff that goes on in our university is that some of these things - student societies, acting, et cetera - are just withering on the vine. We used to have a vibrant student newspaper, now one comes out maybe once or twice a year. My experience as a student was what I learned was only half of what I learned in the classroom. It was also what I learned at being at an institution where I did not have those economic pressures by virtue of having a free undergraduate education, and that's what we're denying to our children.
I find it's not just the actual economic pressures that Rebecca can speak to, but when I look at what our students are experiencing now, I think this is profoundly tragic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr. Preyra.
MR. PREYRA: I had a question for Rebecca. The protest last week was just fabulous; it was really well-organized, it was well-attended and you did mention it was under tremendously difficult circumstances, there was lots of snow. As someone who was there, as the member says, long before 2006, I think it's important that students, faculty and staff mobilize around issues for post-secondary education.
One of the things that we've always asked for, both inside and outside government, is to develop a student assistance program, particularly one that focuses on upfront loans or grants that would make access to education easier. It has been one of the continuing themes of the coalition and also of the government, and it's certainly something we're looking at. As you know, we did a survey in 1997 and 2006, and it hasn't really changed. Students wanted more financial assistance; more upfront, non-repayable grants; a simpler process for student loan applicants and holders; excluding parental and spousal income in the needs assessment; improved graduate retention; and rebates. The issues really haven't changed.
I guess the question I would have for you - and I take your point about a progressive income tax system, of course, that would remain the ideal - but we have a tax-weary public at the moment, so any new revenues for a particular program have to come from some other program. I know we can disagree over that, but it is what the political climate is at the moment, so we have to look at transferring resources from one program to the next.
Let's set that aside and let's assume we agree on these upfront grants and the need to deal with access. Do you have a suggestion in terms of how we deal with unmet needs? What kind of program would you set up for student assistance that addresses that core value that we both share, that we need to do something about access and we need to do it up front?
MS. ROSE: First of all, I have to disagree with the fact that we have a tax-weary public at the moment, what you said. As Chris said before, when we did our poll, nearly 60 per cent of those who were asked if they would increase their income taxes to pay for a more affordable post-secondary education system, said that they would. When people see specific benefits - for themselves, their children, their friends, their friends' children - then they're willing to pay more taxes. We know that from other countries, as well, where people pay higher taxes but see that they're going into social services, like education and health care, and that they're accessible and affordable - they're happier. We know that and so I just want to say that I don't agree with that and I don't think that the public we surveyed agreed with that either.
Just to back up, the best way to address unmet need is to prevent there from being unmet need. So it seems to me a little bit strange to be talking about how we're going to get to this problem of unmet need without talking about how we created that need in the beginning. We created that need by having high tuition fees, and in Nova Scotia we had the highest tuition fees for 20 years - for two decades, the highest tuition fees. We're now third according to Stats Canada but they include the Nova Scotia student rebate, which we don't consider to be a legislated tuition fee reduction. We're only $21 below New Brunswick, which is like a dinner and a drink, really, so we're right up there with some of the highest tuition fees in the country. The best way to deal with unmet need is to deal with it on the front end, as you were suggesting.
Student financial aid, even if it is a great system of grants - and, of course, our slogan has always been "Grants, not loans." We believe, as you said, in a system of needs-based grants and the federation advocates for at least 50 per cent of your student loan to be allocated to a grant as opposed to the 20 that it currently is, at least - obviously, we'd love to see more. But having a good system of financial aid can only go so far and is going to be ineffective and there's always going to be an unmet need, so long as tuition fees are high.
It's also just inefficient when it comes to government expenditures, to be putting money into administering student loans and debt forgiveness and all the other programs that we have to enact when tuition fees are high and student debt is $31,000, it's just not efficient. The best way to do it is to be investing it in the front end through tuition-fee reductions and until we get to the point where education is way more affordable, then we need to be investing in grants as well. So that's what we advocate for.
MR. PREYRA: One of the things Dr. O'Neill is - well, let me just step back. I think the question of what O'Neill is saying about the financial situation being a barrier has been a little bit misunderstood because he was addressing the same issue that the Millennium Scholarship people did, and other people have before, that it's not necessarily the higher-income families who benefit or lose through any particular program, it's the family situation.
Whether they went to university before, where they're located - whether they're in rural or inner Nova Scotia - there is a whole range of things that have to go into the calculation of need.
The basic point is, if you have a small pool of money, to make sure that those who qualify for a post-secondary education don't get left by the wayside so that those who are, in fact, going to be barred or prevented from going to post-secondary institutions because of financial need - if we agree that we want to share that pool of money equitably and say that those who need it the most should be first in line, because otherwise they're unlikely to get this - and education is important, we all know that.
Is there a way that you would accept that we would say, let's define unmet need, let's identify that need, and allocate that pool of money along certain principles that you can live with.
MS. ROSE: Yes, I think that my response is the same. I'm looking at Kaley to see if there's anything additional that she wanted to say.
MS. KALEY KENNEDY: No, I think it's pretty clear. For folks who don't know, my name is Kaley . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, can you just come up to the microphone on the side, please. Could you introduce yourself for the record.
MS. KENNEDY: My name is Kaley Kennedy. I currently work as a government relations and research coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students - Nova Scotia, and I've been active in the student movement for five or six years. I would only add to what Rebecca has said by saying that the kind of targeted assistance program you're suggesting will eventually cost the government more, as tuition fees go up. So to explain this in a quick way, if we're not controlling tuition fees, if we're not controlling the cost of fees, then unmet needs continue to rise. So if we say that we're going to address unmet need with a targeted system, that is targeted at those people who have the most unmet need or who come from the lowest incomes, there are a number of ways that it could be done. As long as that unmet need is going up, the costs for that program are going to go up.
One thing that we've addressed in Rebecca's notes is that Dr. O'Neill doesn't cost out the magnitude of what the financial aid program he is proposing would be, so he doesn't cost out what kind of financial commitment the government is making when it says that it is going to address unmet need.
I haven't seen any numbers from the government that suggest that that money would be less than the cost of reducing unmet need through reducing tuition fees. So if we were to reduce tuition fees, we also reduce unmet need because the costs students are incurring go
down. Then, in that way, the government is able to - let's say the other way that we save money is if we reduce tuition fees. Then we can see benefits like Newfoundland and Labrador saw, which means we have fewer borrowers and we have people borrowing less of those people who are borrowing. So the government is then able to save money on its Student Assistance Program and realize efficiencies through that program, as well, so the pool of people who require assistance is also reduced.
I met with the minister on Tuesday to hear what we had already heard from a ChronicleHerald reporter. The minister and ministry staff had explained that there had not been modelling done to see what the impact would be if the government were to reduce the upfront costs of post-secondary education by reducing tuition fees, what the impact would be on the financial aid programs, what the impact would be on the various retraining and educate-to-work programs that exist in the province. Those numbers don't exist.
When the government says that we have a small pool of money, what is the most equitable way of spending it? They've only done the calculations and the modelling on the assumption that tuition fees will go up and that financial aid will be needed. My understanding, and I haven't seen these numbers, is that the government has done modelling to look at what the impact of rising fees would be on the financial aid system, but it has not done it the other way.
I challenge the idea that we know that our small pool of money is most efficiently spent in one way or the other when the government itself hasn't done that modelling.
MR. FERNS: Just further to that, with all this concern about the possibility of declining enrolments, one of the most obvious strategies to address that is to increase participation rates. Certainly my own experience talking to students at Mount Saint Vincent, a lot of whom come from lower-income family backgrounds, a lot of whom are the first person in their family to go to university, one of the biggest barriers to overcoming those hurdles is the upfront costs that if no one in your family has been to university before and you are looking at something which is going to cost you well in excess of $5,000 a year, a lot of people just balk at that. That's the stumbling block, right there. I think that's what the strategy, as advocated by O'Neill in his report, completely failed to address and why I think those recommendations would have the effect of creating exactly what he predicts; namely, there would be declining enrolments if you followed down that route.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you, Mr. Preyra. We'll go to Ms. Raymond and Mr. MacKinnon and then back to Mr. Younger.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: Thank you very much. I'm very glad to hear from all three of you and the different sectors that you represent. I have to say I'm a firm believer in the value of an educated populous in the province. My own history is that my family arrived in Nova Scotia because both of my parents were academics, they had been educated
elsewhere and so they have a very strong investment in the university system here. I also believe very strongly that Nova Scotia is a place which not only has an educated populous, but has done some very good work and continues to do some very good work in also improving the quality of life outside of Nova Scotia because people do come here to be educated and they do leave.
Having said that, one of the things that really concerns me enormously, particularly in the area I represent which probably has the highest university-educated populous and also one of the most disenfranchised populations in close proximity, one of the things that really concerns me is what exactly is the impact of post-secondary education on, quite simply, the job distribution in the province?
The fact of the matter is that we have a growing service economy, not just in Nova Scotia but in North America in general, and what does that mean for the people who have received a very good education? Certainly we know it improves population health both psychologically and physically, it improves health outcomes enormously and it is wonderful to have that come here, but it also means that people are less inclined to stay here.
You talk about a debt load which is the highest of any province and yet at the moment our tuition is actually very slightly below the national average, so that debt load has to be coming from something other than just the amount of tuition which we are paying. I'm thinking this may be coming from perhaps the employment which is available to those who are educated or not educated.
I guess what I want to ask is, quite apart from giving us a healthy population and a really highly socially productive society, how do we ensure and do we know, is there a way of translating a highly educated population into a population which can put bread on the table for its children, to put it bluntly?
MS. ROSE: I'll just maybe start off, I don't know if anyone else wants to jump in. Just to first, I guess, challenge the assertion that we're below the national average. I know that is based off in-province students, is my understanding, it is not based on the 40 per cent of our student population that comes from out of the province.
MS. RAYMOND: It's just the straight tuition figure.
MS. ROSE: But that's for in-province students, it's not for out-of-province students. Out-of-province students make up about 40 per cent of our population, and not just from Ontario, not just from Toronto and Ottawa . . .
MS. RAYMOND: We're talking about differential fees.
MS. ROSE: . . . but from P.E.I. and New Brunswick and other places that are closer, right?
MR. PREYRA: And Newfoundland and Labrador.
MS. ROSE: And Newfoundland and Labrador, but not very many anymore. I think that's important to talk about.
The numbers that we have, so tuition fees were frozen at 2007 and 2008 levels, on average, in-province students were paying $5,936 and out-of-province students were paying $6,436. Then, of course, since 2007 in-province students have been getting the rebate on their tuition fees, which was worth about $1,271 and then out-of-province students got that in the last year, for $261. Those are the numbers we're working with. We don't believe that we're under the national average and according to Stats Canada, we're definitely not under the national average. As I said, we're the third highest and I also said that we have a problem with Statistics Canada's numbers because they do take into account the rebate.
MS. RAYMOND: So when you talk about the debt load what you mean is the debt load on students who have been educated in Nova Scotia, no matter what their origin is?
MS. ROSE: No, I'm saying that we need to talk about the national average for tuition fees, I've heard this a lot in the last week. We are not below the national average for tuition fees.
MS. RAYMOND: I'm talking about the relationship between the debt load and the tuition.
MS. ROSE: I just wanted to challenge the assertion that we're below the national average, which us and our colleagues across the country do not agree with and I just wanted to have those numbers read into the record. I don't know if you want to jump in.
MR. FERNS: I think what we're dealing with here is a kind of snowball effect that - I mean it's not just now that we have high tuition fees, this has been going on for more than two decades so we're looking at long-term consequences. I think, for example, yes, a factor in student debt loads is that they are comparatively low wages for a lot of the jobs people would take on. The trouble is that if you increase tuition fees, the necessity for taking on such jobs increases. The competition for such jobs increases and then the debt load increases and then you start looking elsewhere for employment opportunities to enable you to pay it off, so just letting that pattern unfold year after year after year, effectively the problem gets worse and worse and worse because there is more and more pressure on people to migrate from the province, as opposed to staying here.
MS. RAYMOND: That's if the tuition fees increase, though, without any amelioration from grants and bursaries and so on, right, from student aid?
MS. ROSE: I think just to go back, no matter if we think tuition fees are one number, and people are saying tuition fees are under the national average, the consensus is that they are still too high and they still are preventing people from low- and modest-income families from attending post-secondary education. We know that from Statistics Canada, especially people from marginalized communities, so in our African Nova Scotian community we're seeing very much under-represented in our schools, and Aboriginal students. I know that's a federal issue as well as a provincial issue because they do access funding through the PSSSP, which is at a federal level for Aboriginal students. We do have a case for more funding for that as well, to allow them to access but, of course, high tuition fees don't help Aboriginal students anyway.
The underlying thing is that tuition fees are too high, whether they are at, below or over the national average. The other thing is that it used to be the case that you could work throughout a summer to pay for your education. I know you hear that a lot, I hear that a lot from other generations - just work for the summer, I worked for the summer, why aren't students working through the summer to pay for tuition fees anymore?
The answer is that it is not physically possible to pay for your tuition fees with the amount that you're making in the summer and that was even before unemployment for students reached the level that it was. We've had record numbers for unemployment in the last two summers, I believe, for students and that was before that. You just cannot work through the summer anymore so students are working a few jobs during the summer, when they have the time off, but they're also working a few jobs during the year and even some of our student union executives that I work with on a very regular basis are not only working their student union jobs, because they think it's important, but they're working service industry jobs on top of that and they're working patrol during the night, overnight, to be able to pay.
You can imagine what it's like to try to go to class the next day at 9:00 a.m. or even earlier, when you've worked a patrol shift at the University of King's College overnight. You are very, very tired and you're not getting the quality of education and you're not giving your professors the attention and respect that they deserve either. A professor has to put in the same amount of time preparing the lesson plan, whether there's 30 people in the class or 15 and whether or not half of those people are sleeping or not, right? So it just impacts the quality.
We talk a lot about quality of education when it comes to physical things, like walls and desks and deferred maintenance but we don't talk a lot about the quality of education of
when you're not able to put your best, your all, into your education. I think that's something that needs to be talked about more. So it comes down to the fact that yes, absolutely, employment is a problem but it wouldn't be as much of a problem if tuition fees weren't so high. It's just not possible to work to pay for your fees anymore so people are having to go, like I said, not only to provincial and federal loans but to banks, lines of credit, their friends and families, and to other things that are not as above-board. People are doing a lot of things to pay for their tuition fees.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One quick question.
MS. RAYMOND: No, I realize that the strains are enormous. I hope that we can find a way of translating, of valuing and making sure that this educated populous, whatever it is that we have to do to achieve that, is actually not only able but willing to stay here because we need to be sure that the wages that are available and the jobs that are available are those which will support students when they go, and enable them to support their own children as fully. It's a very important part of it and I hope that there is some examination of that because what we're looking at is not so much tuition fees as it is that total burden which keeps a given student in or out of the university.
MS. ROSE: Actually I came back, I went away for university, I went to Toronto. I came back and decided to make my life here and to work here and to rent an apartment here. I was able to do that because my parents paid my way through education. I recognize that I am incredibly privileged because I know, I went to Dartmouth High School across the harbour. I grew up in Dartmouth, I am originally from Cape Breton, the Sydney-Glace Bay area. I know so many people who have gone away, out West or to Ontario, or even overseas to teach English in places like Korea, to make that money to be able to pay off their student loans.
I consider myself incredibly lucky that I was able to come home and live in this province and be here with my family and friends. I was that lucky because my parents paid for my tuition fees, and I have no student debt but a lot of my friends are not that lucky.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I certainly appreciate having the three witness here today who have been very, very informative.
Ms. Hildebrandt talked about an area that I have had a lifelong concern about, that is lifelong education, and it has been suggested that there is a low participation rate. So considering that low participation rate, will a possible 3 per cent increase in tuition further retard that participation rate? The second question, what can we do to get that participation rate up? Perhaps that would be to any or all three of you.
MR. FERNS: I think first of all that at the institutional level there need to be some incentives to ensure that there is adequate funding for part-time students. Now certainly in the 1990s, when they started looking at having a funding formula for universities, one of the challenges we experienced at Mount Saint Vincent, which has a very large number of part-time students, is that really there wasn't sufficient government funding to actually cover the costs of educating them so for the university there is a real, if you like, disincentive to try to attract and recruit non-traditional students. I think that's one area that would be helpful to explore in terms of making it a more attractive option - not just for the universities in terms of funding, but also in terms of them attracting new areas of recruitment.
MS. ROSE: Something that we haven't mentioned thus far when it comes to lifelong learning and when it comes to, I guess, more mature students and part-time students is the Employment Support and Income Assistance Act. This hasn't been talked about for a little while now; it was in the news last year. There's currently a regulation called Regulation 67, which some folks around the table will be familiar with, that says you aren't able to access employment support and income assistance if you're in a program of over two years. So for a lot of people who are coming back - especially single parents who are coming back to get their education later on and get some retraining - this makes it impossible for them to do a four-year university degree.
A lot of people at the Mount, actually, and a lot of the students that we've dealt with - and we deal with a lot of cases with Dal Legal Aid on this - a lot of single moms and single fathers are having a very hard time accessing a degree, to better themselves and to help bring in more income for their family, because of this regulation. So something that we've recommended as a coalition before is that when this Act is being revised - and I believe that it's kind of in the process but we haven't had a lot of information, so if anyone wants to forward over some information about where we're at on the review of that Act, that would be (Interruption) It would be fantastic if we could get that information about where we're at on that.
I know that we got a commitment last year, in a news article from the government, that it would be repealed but we've seen no movement on it. We would like to see that Act repealed because it does allow people who are in rough situations later on in their life to access education and improve upon themselves and then really become more engaged in the society and the economy.
MS. HILDEBRANDT: Then further to that, for a lot of professional people it's already built in that they must keep their learning at a certain level so a lot of professional people have to have 30 hours of learning every year in order to maintain their certification. The problem they face is that most of the courses that allow them to do that are non-credit; therefore, there's no funding for them, it has to be out-of-pocket.
The other problem is they can't get the time off from work to do it. If the government can see its way to give funding for people to take educational leaves, you would find more people accessing lifelong learning. They can't afford to take the time off because they have to pay for the course themselves, and they can't take the time off because they can't afford to take the time off. So it's a Catch-22 for most people and that's why lifelong learning is not accessed as well as it could be.
MR. FERNS: Just one last point with regard to that. I think that's something that actually has a huge impact on the quality of education as well. Before I came to Mount Saint Vincent University I taught for several years at McMaster University in Ontario, and finding a very different kind of mix of students at Mount Saint Vincent made for a hugely different educational experience in terms of the fact that there were people from a whole range of different backgrounds, a whole range of different age groups, et cetera.
For me, first arriving here, I found there was a kind of utopian aspect to that, that this was so much different than what I experienced at a kind of standard graduate school in Ontario.
MR. MACKINNON: I have to give a bouquet to the Mount because I believe this is an extremely important area that has not gotten the attention that it should have gotten from universities in general. Both my wife and I were involved years ago with MANUS, the Mount Association Non-traditional University Students, which was actually mature students. I hope it's still an active organization. But the Mount reached out to students like my wife and I, and I'm very grateful that the Mount was there.
An area that I'd like to focus on for just a minute, or for a couple of minutes if I could, in the exchange between the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and Mr. Ferns, there was discussion about the growth at the senior administration level. Ms. Hildebrandt talked about the importance of conducting management audits to examine how top-heavy each institution has become. I want to know if, in fact, there have ever been any management audits that were geared to how top-heavy this system is within the universities in Nova Scotia, because I think it's something that we should be looking at.
MR. FERNS: I'm not aware of any per se. I think the MPHEC initiative was geared to simply try to establish common reporting categories so you could actually assess what do you pay for this, what do you pay for that?
Currently we're commissioning our own research with regard to some of the issues raised by the O'Neill report. One of the things our researchers find it impossible to actually determine is what proportion of these costs is actually being spent at individual institutions, because they report these costs under such different categories that you're really often comparing apples with oranges. I think that knowing that information would be a huge step forward in terms of both providing transparency, in terms of accountability for the public
money that funds the universities, but also something which would be of benefit in terms of the disillusion that I think a lot of people - both faculty and support staff - feel when they think that okay, there's one law for us, we've got to cut back, we've got to tighten the belt, and there's no sign of our leaders doing the same thing. Sometimes you feel a bit like you're in a South American army with a proliferation of generals and very few troops.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you for that. Ms. Hildebrandt, do you have anything to add to that?
MS. HILDEBRANDT: I do actually, thank you. We are right in the midst of bargaining at our university for the staff at Dalhousie. In doing research and preparing for the bargaining process I discovered that since 2007, Dalhousie University has hired nine new associate vice-presidents whose wages are all within the $100,000 to $150,000 range - nine new positions - and they come to us at the bargaining table, telling us they have no money for salaries. Well, I'm not surprised.
So to us, especially, we're looking at that and going, well, how can you say that and yet keep hiring these very expensive senior administrators? Where's the logic in that?
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much. I'd like to continue but I've been cut off. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have been. I'll go to Mr. Younger, then Mr. Preyra, and then Ms. Birdsall.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The issue we didn't get to last time around was about faculty salaries, and I guess we're starting to talk - and staff salaries, too, I'm not choosing one over the other. What I'm wondering is, we talk about not only Halifax, but Nova Scotia being sort of a university province, if you will, we try to market ourselves that way. The Greater Halifax Partnership does quite a lot on the number of university-educated people in metro and when they're doing economic development stuff, one has to assume - and I think we'd probably all agree - that part of that is the result of the number of universities and the number of people coming here.
I guess what I'm concerned about is you addressed the issue of salaries being below the national average for faculty, and it wouldn't surprise me if I was told that the same is true for non-faculty members as well. I don't dispute the fact that there are probably savings that can be had in administration and that sort of thing but you're probably not going to be able to pick it all up there, so what is the impact on retention of faculty with a 4 per cent cut to universities?
MR. FERNS: Well, I think that one of the problems we are facing is that you're looking at universities which are able to offer considerably more attractive opportunities in
terms of, first of all, teaching load and also in terms of research opportunities. Quite frankly, there's a whole range of areas where it's almost impossible to compete because if somebody has job offers from, say, Saint Mary's or the Mount or Acadia and then they have a job offer from the University of Alberta or the University of Toronto, we're looking at income differences of $30,000 and we're looking at research start-up funds in excess of $10,000 to $15,000. We can't give them anything like what's comparable.
I know that in my own institution, in my own department, we have lost one of our best young researchers to the University of Western Ontario. He took a job there and he received a $30,000-a-year pay increase, just like that. It is a real problem.
I think there are reasons why people would want to be in Nova Scotia, why they want to teach in Nova Scotia universities. I very much value teaching where I do now and in sort of the last few years in my career, I actually get paid reasonably well. I get paid far less than my junior colleague at Western Ontario, but I'm settled here now.
When you were looking at the lower level of faculty salaries for junior faculty, ones we're having to compete with other institutions for, it's becoming a genuine challenge. In some fields less than others but certainly in areas like science, like computer technology, it really is tough to find people who are qualified, to get them to come, or if they come, to get them to stay.
MR. YOUNGER: So if I look forward - I agree that there are obviously people who want to locate in Nova Scotia, no matter what the salary is or isn't, and there's a lifestyle. But in terms of the younger faculty that would be coming in, newer faculty in particular, or even attracting immigrants for that matter, do we end up in sort of this university time bomb, if you will, where the tuition is cheaper to go elsewhere, a higher proportion of desirable faculty have gone elsewhere - not to take away from the quality of education here because I think it's excellent - and then the facilities, we talk about deferred maintenance and all those things. Do we end up in a situation where you have labs and facilities deteriorating, staff levels dropping, class sizes increasing and tuition increasing all at once, gradually making Nova Scotia less attractive?
MR. FERNS: Well, I think that maybe if one thinks about the recommendations in the O'Neill report, if those are followed, I think we're looking at exactly that scenario. This is actually a recipe for precipitating catastrophic enrolment decline. But having said that, I was just struck by an editorial cartoon in The ChronicleHerald a few days ago, and the O'Neill report was illustrated as being a chainsaw and the NDP's funding measures were compared to nail scissors. Now, I think that's half-right. The chainsaw is exactly what would happen if you implemented those recommendations, but I would say that the 3 per cent
tuition increases and the 4 per cent funding reduction is a lot larger than nail scissors and a lot more damaging.
So I think we are right to be concerned about this, because up until now Nova Scotia's universities have been one of the province's success stories and we can't jeopardize that success. It is crucial to our future and crucial to the economic well-being of the province.
MS. ROSE: Just something you touched on, very briefly, that we haven't even mentioned is immigration and bringing people from outside of the country into this province. We still do not know what's happening with international student tuition fees. As folks in the room know, international students pay about twice as much or more than what in-province students pay for the exact same education, the exact same instruction, and the exact same materials.
Last week when the tuition fee increases of 3 per cent were announced and we asked what was happening with international students, we were essentially told that they hadn't been thought of yet. So we're still waiting to hear what is happening with international students because that's an important part of immigration as well. International students play a large role and are a large proportion of our student population, at some universities more so than others. They play an important role in immigration in this province and obviously we want to keep them around and if we're saddling them with the tuition fees that O'Neill suggested within five years, $27,000, we're not going to be able to keep them in this province and improve our immigration.
MR. YOUNGER: I think I have one more question I can squeeze in here. I heard you talk about the debt levels and I only just paid off my student loan of $45,000 a couple of years ago. (Interruptions) Let me tell you, it helps to have a car accident and get paid by the person who hit you so you can pay off your student loan. (Laughter)
MS. ROSE: Solutions - I'll pass that on to the membership. (Interruptions)
MR. YOUNGER: Listen, to me, like it does tell you where we're at. I'm partially thankful that I had a way to pay it off, which is kind of weird, right? Obviously I'm being a little bit factious, but the point is that it does point to it because when I started at Dal the tuition doubled in the time I was there. It was right at the time of the major increases.
My question is really about - you mentioned immigration but the one thing we don't know is what the increase would be there. The other thing is we don't know where the increase is in professional programs, and everybody keeps saying law and medicine and dentistry, and it's unclear whether - the department still hasn't really defined whether it is just law, medicine or dentistry, or whether it's the whole suite of professional programs, which could be everything from planning to architecture to - education is officially a professional program.
So how are you addressing or going to government - what is your message to government on the professional programs?
MS. ROSE: I think we did a good job throughout the Fall semester and leading up to the Day of Action (Interruption). I guess I'll back up for a second. We all laughed at the fact that you're facetiously grateful for your car accident but it is to that point. We can joke about it and we can laugh about it but students are desperate. You were able to pay off your student loan because of your car accident and other people are able to pay off their student loans by doing other things that are not above-board.
Anecdotally, everyone knows someone who got through school or paid off their student loan by doing something that they probably didn't want to do to begin with. That's the kind of stuff that we don't talk about with administration or with government and the media, because it's not super PG in a lot of ways. Yes, people are desperate to pay off their student debt so I think your example is a good example of that and one that we can talk about in public, unlike the other ones. (Laughter)
MR. PREYRA: But you're not impugning motives. (Interruptions)
MS. ROSE: No, not at all, I feel like there would be legal implications. (Laughter)
MR. YOUNGER: I wasn't out looking for a car accident.
MS. ROSE: I think that students - so we talked a bit about reduced fees and the Student Day of Action where there were thousands of students in the streets, which was part of a larger campaign. Of course, when the O'Neill report came out there were three recommendations in it around tuition fees, and one got the most attention because it was the most severe and, I guess, the sexiest of the three. One was complete deregulation for everything and so within five years he recommended his ideal situation: $11,000 for in-province students, $13,000 for out-of-province students, and $27,000 for international students. The other two were a capped increase with deregulation later on - it didn't say when - or a capped increase with deregulation for some programs.
That looks like the recommendation that this government has adopted and when that came out, we came out against it and we said that we were surprised and blindsided by the fact that this government had adopted one of the three recommendations in the O'Neill report, despite widespread condemnation of that report. I've only met or heard a few people who actually agree with it and definitely none of those people are students, staff or faculty. It has been widely condemned.
Deregulation in any program is totally detrimental and we know when deregulation has happened in professional programs, the amount of people from low-income backgrounds has actually dropped significantly. We've seen that happen and we know the effects of
deregulation and we can only assume that that is maybe where we're going right now for international and professional students, because we haven't heard otherwise, and it will be absolutely detrimental.
I want to have doctors, lawyers, dentists, and educators that got through because they wanted to and they had the passion and they were good at it, not because their parents were able to pay their way through. I want to have doctors that know what they're doing, not necessarily doctors who just had rich parents. So I think that's what we are looking at when we're looking at deregulation for those programs. I went to Ontario when fees were deregulated for professional programs, as well, and that did include engineering and such.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Younger.
We're going to switch things up a little bit, so we'll go to Ms. Birdsall who hasn't spoken yet, Ms. Regan, and then Mr. Preyra. We're going to do this all within about six minutes - so short questions, short answers.
MS. BIRDSALL: Thank you, it has been really wonderful hearing you and I also graduated from Dartmouth High, but many more decades ago. I'm interested in the whole idea of co-op programming, does that help in a very positive way to balance tuition needs and demands? It seems to be something that people I've spoken to have felt is a very worthwhile way to go. Are there thoughts of that in other universities?
MR. FERNS: I didn't have a great deal of first-hand experience of that simply by virtue of my discipline being in liberal arts, but I think those of my colleagues in the professional programs would speak very highly of that as being something that is both educationally beneficial and has some kind of mitigating effect on economic stress.
MS. BIRDSALL: What can you tell me?
MS. HILDEBRANDT: I know that the way people in the program view it is it's not so much an opportunity to reduce your debt, it's part of your learning process. You don't graduate with a degree unless you do it so they don't see it - really, they don't look at it in those terms.
MS. BIRDSALL: But how does it work financially?
MS. HILDEBRANDT: They get sponsored by Aliant or whomever - somebody will bring them into their offices for a term and they would work and learn and get paid a wage at that time, although the wage is usually partially funded by the department. So the department would give a grant to the institution to help pay that student's fees, so in a way we're paying our own students. So the students make a wage for one term and yes, it does
reduce their debt a little, but that's not why they do it. They do it because it's part of their program and they don't graduate unless they do it.
MS. BIRDSALL: So it gives them more experience in the workplace.
MS. HILDEBRANDT: It gives them experience in the workplace, exactly.
MS. BIRDSALL: So it's not something that would be looked at in a way that would help . . .
MS. HILDEBRANDT: Usually in the co-ops, they only do two work terms. Working for three months at a wage isn't really going to bring you in very much money, and you still have to eat and pay your rent in the meantime.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Ms. Regan, you have two minutes.
MS. REGAN: I just want to clarify a couple of issues that are still floating around to make sure I understand that we don't have answers on them. We do not know what the international student fees will be, correct?
MS. ROSE: No, we do not know.
MS. REGAN: We do not know the amount of the bursary that will be distributed to students.
MS. ROSE: You mean the bursary that used to be the Trust?
MS. REGAN: Yes.
MS. ROSE: All we know is that it will be $29 million.
MS. REGAN: But we don't know what that translates into per student at this point.
MS. ROSE: Yes.
MS. KENNEDY: I was at that meeting. Our understanding is that the bursary will be maintained at its current level which is what this $29 million investment is aimed to do, that was the indication we were given by the minister at a meeting last Tuesday. Now having said that, that will obviously be eaten into by the fact that tuition fees will be increasing. Students will be paying more, for sure, but we're operating under the assumption that it is going to be maintained at its current levels.
MS. REGAN: All right, thank you, because we were not invited to any release of information there, so we are left to ask questions of people who were there. In the next MOU, will students be participating? Have you been told whether you will be participating or not?
MS. ROSE: We were told that we would be participating in the next MOU but that staff and faculty will not be included. My understanding is the next MOU will be negotiated somewhere between April and the Fall or winter next year.
MS. KENNEDY: It will between April and December of this year.
MR. FERNS: The coalition wrote to the Minister of Education in early December, requesting that there be participation by faculty, students, and support staff; to date we have received no reply to that letter.
MS. KENNEDY: I just want to add that the minister also said these negotiations may look markedly different from negotiations that we have participated in in the past.
MS. REGAN: So it would seem to me that normally an MOU process - a big chunk of what you would have been participating in would have been discussing any tuition increases, decreases, freezes. So a large part of your raison d'être at those MOU meetings appears to have been already decided for you.
MS. ROSE: Yes. The last MOU process that happened a few years back started December 10th, I believe, of that year. We have been asking and writing letters to many people throughout the Fall semester, and asked every time we met with the minister or anyone else if they had any information about when MOU negotiations would start because we were expecting they would be starting around December and that we would be involved in that.
We also had reason to believe that there might also be representation from staff and faculty and we believe that that's important because although we appreciate being at the table, the staff and faculty are also people who are there day in and day out and know the effects of high tuition fees and know the effects of various levels of funding on the university system. We had reason to believe that staff and faculty would also be involved. In our last Vote Education questionnaire - we put out a questionnaire to all three Parties to see where you folks all stand on post-secondary education - I believe we had a commitment from the government to have faculty, staff, and students involved in the next MOU negotiations.
MS. REGAN: I just want to make sure that we don't have . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Regan, your time has run out.
MS. KENNEDY: Can I just add one thing? The other thing is that in the current MOU there are controls on ancillary fees and it came to light at the meeting with the minister that because there won't be an MOU for next year, it's unclear what controls will be placed on ancillary fees. This year we saw even with controls that the School of Dentistry was able to increase ancillary fees by $5,000.
MS. ROSE: On ancillary fees, very quickly, what's required currently is that there is consultation with students but, of course, that's pretty loosely defined. What ended up happening this year with ancillary fees, but also with tuition fees, was that students were kind of the gatekeepers. We would get calls from students on different campuses saying, our universities are talking about increasing either ancillary fees or in some cases tuition fees, can you please forward me the electronic copy of the MOU that says they can't do that so I can enforce this at my university?
So it was students at student unions that were enforcing the MOU to make sure that their ancillary and even tuition fees weren't going up. This is something that we found is common both this year and last year.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Preyra, you have two minutes and then we'll wrap things up.
MR. PREYRA: A couple of comments and a question. I wanted to say something about the MPHEC study because in a way - and maybe you're surprised as well - what the MPHEC study says is that students still see - and this is five years later - a university education as a great investment, a high level of satisfaction, they enjoyed the quality of teaching, and that essentially the university system remains a magnet for international students and students from the rest of the country. Our challenge is to make sure that we don't kill that goose that lays the golden egg for our economy, population, and all kinds of other things.
I know that there's a tendency to create a dire set of circumstances out of where we are, but where we are is in a pretty great position. We don't want to lose that position, especially as it relates to access for students, whether they're from Nova Scotia or from elsewhere.
I did want to say something about the deregulation of tuition. It's one thing in the O'Neill report that we rejected. We have said that we're going to set a 3 per cent cap on it and that's in recognition of the fact that we don't think deregulating it is the answer. If we are to address those issues there has to be a student assistance program that complements it and that's why you get $29 million to replace the bursary. So there is a recognition that what
O'Neill is recommending - and that's what it is, it's advice to the government, it's not government policy, and that's an example of it.
One thing O'Neill does raise is the question of ability to pay off a student loan and in particular the question of return on investment. We should have a discussion of that, where he's saying - and I agree completely with your argument that we want to make sure that those professions don't become a particular enclave for wealthy people and children of wealthy people. But what he's saying is that given the return on investment - and let's use law, medicine, and dentistry as an example - that it may be that if upon graduation those students are able to pay off those loans a little easier, then maybe we should slide away from providing support at that level and move it to maybe professions of students that are not able to pay off their loans and look at their own socio-economic situation as they're paying off their loan.
MS. ROSE: We've heard this over and over and over. When the O'Neill report came out - I lived through the Bob Rae report in Ontario, and I say lived through because he recommended pretty much the same thing O'Neill recommended, so there was nothing innovative or strategic about the O'Neill report, as Premier Dexter suggested. It was the same recycled recommendations that have come out time after time by government-commissioned reports and that's deregulation, higher student loan limits, sometimes targeted assistance. To go back, that question kind of ignores the progressive taxation system again.
If you make more personal gain from your profession, then you are going to pay more for it. That is how our system works and this is how in Nova Scotia and Canada, we've decided is the fairest, most equitable way to fund public services. I hope we're not moving away from that because I think it's a great system and much better than our neighbours in the south have or other countries - although not as great as in some countries where they have free tuition, which actually still does exist in many places. They do end up paying more into the system, so I think we can't ignore that fact.
Also, just because you get a law degree does not mean you're going to be making a high salary. What if you decide to do community law or something else that doesn't make you a lot of money? What if you, as a medical professional, decide to go somewhere in a rural community where we desperately need people, whether it be here or somewhere else and you're not getting paid as much as other folks? Instead of saying yes, all doctors, all lawyers, all engineers, all teachers are going to make a lot of money when they graduate, we should say okay, when they graduate let's look at how much money they do make - based on fact, not based on speculation about how much they're going to make - and then tax them appropriately. I think that's the fairest way to do that.
About the MPHEC study, we haven't yet addressed the fact that, of course, people are still going to see the value in post-secondary education because unlike my parents' generation, it's a necessity now, it's not just something that gets you a higher salary. In order
to get a living wage, in order to get an average income, you need a post-secondary education - and actually, more increasingly, you need a master's degree or a Ph.D. which a lot of people can't afford either.
Going back to the MPHEC study, satisfaction was actually less for a student with higher debt loads and that's something that didn't get a lot of play in the press. As your debt load went up your satisfaction with your degree actually went down and I think that's very, very telling. The MPHEC also acknowledges that we could be approaching a ceiling for people seeing the value in post-secondary education very soon. As tuition fees continue to go up and student debt goes up, there's going to be a point where people are going to say no, this is no longer worth it. We haven't hit that ceiling yet, but it could be approaching and the MPHEC also acknowledged that and, of course, that didn't get much play either.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm going to have to cut you off there because we are coming near to three o'clock and we still have committee business to do. Maybe what I will do is thank all the members for contributing to this discussion today. I would ask that maybe one of you possibly make some small closing remarks and then we'll wrap things up.
MR. FERNS: I'd like to thank the committee for its invitation and also for its questions. I guess simply going back to the O'Neill report which has been kind of the elephant in the room - when Kelly Regan showed us the newspaper, I thought she was pointing out the thing about elephants going underneath an underpass.
One of the things I do think we have to bear in mind about the O'Neill report is it actually was commissioned by the government, which must have had some idea of what kind of recommendations would be likely to come from somebody with that kind of background. A draft of the report went to the Premier's Office, so there was clearly a good deal of consultation between Dr. O'Neill and the Premier's Office. What we have is a suite of recommendations varying from the catastrophic to the unacceptable.
It's very hard not to conclude that this is really a strategic exercise in managing expectations, that by getting people scared about the worst possible outcome, they're going to feel relieved at the least bad outcome. Perhaps that's reflected in Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon, because they certainly are not nail scissors when we're talking about the impact of tuition fee increases or, indeed, cuts to university funding.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MS. ROSE: Just to wrap up, I would also say thank you very much but just to add on to that, our members don't think that they're nail scissors either or else they wouldn't have come out in the numbers that they did the day after the tuition fee hike announcement, and people suffered through a blizzard for that for three to four hours. I think we have the support
of both a large number of students who don't agree with these tuition fees hikes and actually believe that fees should be going down, but also the general population through our polling.
I encourage you, if you need more information, please contact us. The federation's Web site has some of these documents in electronic format - that's at www.cfs-ns.ca - and if you do need anything else you can contact myself, Kaley or, of course, Zita and we can get you documents.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much and thank you for coming. We'll take one minute to let you folks disembark and we'll continue on.
[2:56 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:58 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I call the committee back to order.
As far as a future agenda review that's on the agenda, we've now gone through a lot of our witnesses that had been approved. There are two from the NDP caucus: the Lighthouse Program, which technically falls under the Department of Justice, so it's technically not under the mandate of the HR Committee so we can't have them come forward here; and the second one was around the Community Engagement Project (IT Project) which has actually fizzled out. Those two don't exist so I'm going to go to Ms. Birdsall for a recommendation if you don't mind.
MS. BIRDSALL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We talked a bit about this and thought that possibly the voluntary sector might be a good group to bring for witnesses and also the Nova Scotia Community College.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Is it agreed to replace those two witnesses with the ones that were recommended? Mr. d'Entremont.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: I'm just wondering, the voluntary sector - sector councils, sector organizations? (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe it was someone under the department, the staff that look after that program there.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
If we take a look at the witness list, the witnesses we had today asked to come see us, so Tim O'Neill's report was there. Technically it is the NDP's turn to come forward. Does anybody want to make a recommendation of who first?
MR. MACKINNON: The Nova Scotia Community College.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, the Nova Scotia Community College first and then the voluntary sector for our next meeting, in that order. We already have the witness list for a couple of the next meetings, so we'll adjourn with that, I think.
MS. BIRDSALL: So the next meeting is?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The next meeting is March 29th. Thank you very much, folks, appreciate it.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 3:01 p.m.]