On January 25, the Gallant Government announced that it had reached memoranda of understandings on multi-year operating grant funding with three provincial universities. Unfortunately, St. Thomas University was unable to join the other universities in signing the MOU.
The St. Thomas University Students’ Union (STUSU) supports St. Thomas University because of our responsibility to represent the best interests of St. Thomas students. We recognize that the historic inequity in STU’s operating grant has had a negative effect on students and we call on the government to address this issue.
Over the years, a wealth of data has made it clear that St. Thomas’ operating grant is not equitable in comparison to other public universities in the province. As representatives of students, we know that the result of this underfunding impacts St. Thomas students, particularly when it comes to the cost of their tuition.
St. Thomas University’s operating grant is 89% of the provincial average in terms of operating grant per-weighted full-time student. This means that each year, STU’s operating grant is $1.4 million lower than it should be. Unfortunately, this backs the STU administration into a corner and they may be forced to raise tuition.
Despite the financial constraints imposed by the operating grant, STU has made frugal fiscal decisions to keep costs as low as possible for students. In fact, they have been successful in maintaining affordable tuition within both the context of the province and Atlantic Canada.
St. Thomas’ operating grant also fails to address a vast amount of program growth at STU. This includes programs such as majors in Criminology, Journalism, Communications and Public Policy, Science and Technology Studies, Gerontology and Human Rights. The grant has also not accounted for the Bachelor of Social Work and Mi’kmaq/Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work program. St. Thomas students know immediately from seeing this list that these are some of the most popular programs. This makes the fact that the grant has not been adjusted to accommodate these programs extremely disappointing.
In addition, 73% of STU students are from New Brunswick. This begs the question of how the government can justify to New Brunswick taxpayers underfunding a university that so many New Brunswickers attend? The St. Thomas University community also has a high percentage of low-income and first generation students. Also, over 8% of the STU student body is made up by Indigenous students, which is well above the national average in Canadian postsecondary institutions. It is clear from looking at these types of representation that make up the STU student body that the inequity in public funding is even more pointed and disappointing.
The STUSU believes the government should support St. Thomas students the same way it supports students studying at any of the other three public universities. It is for these reasons that the STUSU stands with the university in their call for the government to address this long-standing issue with the operating grant.
Overall, the matter of inequity in St. Thomas’ public funding begs an extremely obvious and fundamental question for all St. Thomas students to pose – Why is my education as a St. Thomas student worth less than students at other universities when it comes to public funding?
This question is one the Government of New Brunswick has still not answered. On behalf of all STU students, we are waiting for an answer.
STUSU Vice-President Education
Publication in the Daily Gleaner, Telegraph Journal and Times and Transcript on February 7, 2018: