Government will introduce legislation this spring to increase universities’ financial accountability.
Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan spoke to universities, student groups and businesses at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax today, March 24, and shared results of the university consultation launched last fall.
“Nova Scotians clearly value our universities, but they also believe universities can do a better job controlling their costs, and should be more accountable for results,” said Ms. Regan.
The legislation will require more standard reporting and give government a clearer picture of the universities’ books. In extreme circumstances, government will have authority to withhold grants. It will also require universities to set outcomes, and measure progress.
The consultation revealed divided views on funding issues.
Universities want to set their own tuition without any caps, while some student leaders want a tuition freeze or free tuition. The spring budget will try to balance this.
“Universities are independent institutions, and must have reasonable flexibility to set tuition,” Ms. Regan said. “We must also keep Nova Scotia universities accessible for Nova Scotia students.”
Government is changing its debt cap program to the Nova Scotia Loan Forgiveness Program. Nova Scotia undergraduate students who graduate within a reasonable time can have their entire provincial loan forgiven. This could save students up to $15,000.
Program changes will help students with permanent disabilities. Currently, students need to complete their studies within four years to qualify for maximum assistance. Students with permanent disabilities will now have 10 years.
The Loan Forgiveness program will now be limited to Nova Scotia students attending Nova Scotia universities. Students who choose universities out of province will only be eligible if they can show the program is not available in Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia taxpayers fund one of the best student assistance programs in the country. Nova Scotians also invest more in post-secondary education than all but one other province, and about $100 more than the national average, based on population.
“Our universities have a lot to offer students,” said Ms. Regan. “The feedback was clear – Nova Scotians want their tax dollars to support Nova Scotia students at Nova Scotia universities first.”
Ms. Regan said more change is coming to protect and build the quality of university education for students.
Government is creating innovation teams for priorities like entrepreneurship and hands-on learning. One goal is to offer co-op in arts and other programs where these opportunities are now limited.
“Some may still not accept the size of the challenge,” said Ms. Regan. “Plain and simple, our universities don’t have enough money to thrive. It’s a fact we all need to accept, and everyone needs to do their part to keep our universities at the top of the pack.”
The consultation reports can be found at novascotia.ca/lae/pubs/ .