Fredericton, N.B. — Students rallied Tuesday against possible tuition increases and further cuts to post-secondary education in New Brunswick.
Approximately 250 to 300 students marched from the campuses of St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick to the provincial legislature, where they gathered near the steps to voice their concerns.
“The students united will never be defeated,” the crowd chanted as they waved posters and placards. Some read “Defenders of public education,” and “Fight tuition fees.”
The march and protest were organized by the St. Thomas University Students’ Union (STUSU), with help of the student group Unite.
Ella Henry, STUSU president, said student unions from across the province are meeting with New Brunswick Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour, Martine Coulombe on Wednesday to discuss funding.
“We don’t want to see cuts in [university] operating funding,” Henry said. “We’d like to see the tuition freeze maintained and investments in student financial aid, [and] some restructuring of programs, like the Timely Completion Benefit, so that the money is getting to the students who need it.”
Coulombe appeared on the legislature steps near the end of the rally to assure the crowd that student leaders will continue to be involved in budget consultations.
“I hear you,” she said.
“Then do something about it,” shouted back Colin Belyea, a third-year St. Thomas student from St. John, New Brunswick, who says he’s incurred about $25,000 worth of debt in his three years at university.
Protesters interrupted Cou-lombe throughout her megaphone address with cries for affordable education, while others hurled obscenities.
A freeze on tuition fees in the province is set to expire when the provincial budget is handed down this month, and student leaders in the province aren’t optimistic it will be renewed.
Last month, the government announced more than $3 million in cuts to post-secondary education, mainly aimed at the Repayment Assistance Plan, a program that gives loan repayment relief to former student borrowers based on monthly student loan payments, how much a former borrower earns, their family situation and how much money they owe in total.
A department spokesman said the cuts were a result of low program uptake and lower than expected interest rates.
The cuts are also a part of the Progressive Conservative campaign promise to reduce government spending by one per cent.
Members of Strax, a social justice student group, and the New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) also took part in the demonstration. Strax said in a media statement that the burden of debt forces students to overwork themselves in order to pay for their education.
“How could a real education be possible, one which requires critical reflection, if we must work twenty hours per week while we study?” the statement asks.
Alex Bailey, the NBFL’s vice-president for youth, said one way to offset the rising cost of education is to raise minimum wage in the province.
“Young students are also young workers,” said Bailey. “Students can’t pay their fees because wages are low.”