Tuition Hikes, Nova Scotia Students Occupy Finance Minister’s Office

| Resist!

A group of disgruntled Halifax university students brought their issues with the new provincial budget right to Finance Minister Diana Whalen’s doorstep.

Coming from Dalhousie and St. Mary’s universities, as well as the University of King’s College and NSCAD University, the group of about 15 students held a study-in on Monday at Whalen’s constituency office on Lacewood Drive.

“We’re here because this government has proposed the most radical changes to tuition policy in our lifetime, the total deregulation of fees,” said John Hutton, 25, a Dal economics and international development student.

“Nova Scotia’s students already graduate, on average, $35,000 in debt. This budget will only make what’s already a crisis worse.”

SEE ALSO: More coverage of the tuition issue and provincial budget

The controversial Liberal government budget was released Thursday, introducing a policy that removes tuition fee limits. The budget also provides an extra $1.6 million to turn student loans into grants.

Universities will be allowed to make a one-time market adjustment to fees, followed by a three per cent increase for Nova Scotian students each year. The tuition cap for out-of-province and graduate students has been scrapped completely, giving universities the freedom to charge what they want.

Students voiced their concerns peacefully while occupying Whalen’s office.

“To take away the protection the province once offered to students is insulting,” said Dylan Ryan, 22, a Dal economics student. “This budget shows that students are absolutely not a priority.”

Alex Khasnabish, an associate professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, accompanied the students to Whalen’s office, saying university education shouldn’t just be a privilege for the wealthy.

“We’re here to make the claim very strongly for public access to public institutions, and that education in a country like Canada ought to be a basic democratic right. The government can do that. It doesn’t need to download the costs of its austerity agenda onto the most vulnerable groups in society.”

Hannah Kaya, 19, is in her first year at the University of King’s College. Originally from Ontario, she’s about worried what the new budget means for out-of-province students like her.

“This is devastating. My first reaction to this budget was, ‘OK, what universities in Ontario can I start looking into?’”

Kaya said students simply won’t be able to afford an education in Nova Scotia anymore.

“Nova Scotia should be expecting a mass student exodus. We’re now in a position where either we have to take on extra jobs and spend less time on our studies, or take on massive student debt. It’s just not viable.”

The students met with Whalen for about 45 minutes before she left her office for the day. She said her meeting with the students was productive.

“They came in, they sat down, they had no appointment. I invited them into my office and spent more than half an hour talking to them about their issues. I think that was a lot of access and a lot of opportunity for them to air their issues. I felt it was a good, productive session.”

But the students disagree.

Aaron Beale, a fourth-year sociology student at Dal, said the protesters remain fundamentally divided from Whalen.

“We see universities, education and social programs in Nova Scotia, in general, as investments that stimulate the economy,” said Beale, 26. “She sees it more as a liability, more of a drain.

“We’re just trying to pressure her. We don’t want them to pass this budget as it stands. It’s a disgrace.”