By: Drew MacEachern
UPEISU President Lucas MacArthur and VP Academic and External Travis Gordon gave a presentation to the Legislative Standing Committee on Education and Innovation on Thursday. They were there to speak on student issues related around tuition regulation, the extension of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP) to post-secondary education, and student loan caps and indexing, as well as to propose solutions to these issues. They were summed up under the three broad headings of affordability, accountability, and accessibility.
Gordon spoke first on the issue of affordability. In regards to tuition, seven out of ten provinces have either a framework, cap, or general regulation on tuition. For example, Manitoba indexes tuition increases to inflation. However, PEI has absolutely no tuition regulation, leaving students unprotected, and has seen its tuition rate grow at double the rate of inflation since 2002. Furthermore, since provincial funding for the university is announced in May, there is often uncertainity among the university administration about how much funding there will be access to and subsequently, how much to increase inflation. In fact, last year, the university administration had to make three different budgets based on expectations of what the provincial government would give them. The SU suggested that the legislature implement a multiyear funding framework with the university and a tuition cap indexed to inflation.
MacArthur then spoke next on the issue of accountability. PEI is the only province where post-secondary education is not covered under FOIPP legislation. While there is a university privacy officer, only students, staff and faculty (not people off-campus) can request information from him and there is no external recourse should a request for information be denied. Subsequently, MacArthur asked for the legislature to bring post-secondary education under PEI’s FOIPP legislation.
Gordon concluded the presentation with accessibility and student loans. Canadian student loan funding is based on a cost-sharing agreement between the federal government, which covers 60%, and the provincial government, which covers 40%. This money is distributed on a weekly basis for however many weeks of school. However, the amount of money given is constrained by weekly loan limits; currently this is $210 for federal funds and $165 for provincial funds. These have not increased since 2004 and one-third of students have with loans have excess need. This often causes them to need to turn to private borrowing, with its resulting debt. This can also often be difficult for low-income families to access, especially if they need a co-signer.
The committee then asked several questions. Olive Crane asked what the government rationale is for not covering post-secondary under FOIPP. The SU responded that the government had argued that a process already existed, however they maintained the process was insufficient for reasons detailed in their presentation. Steven Myers asked what the weekly loan limits would need to be increased to before they are indexed in order to give students the best deal. Gordon said that he would go through the numbers and submit the number to the committee at a later date. Richard Brown also asked why, if the university has posted several surpluses over the last couple years, has tuition been increased. MacArthur made it clear that in those meetings the SU opposed attempts to increase tuition.