On the National Day of Action, students in St. John’s took to the streets for affordable and accessible education.
A wall of rain did not dampen the spirit of students across the city as they came out to protest ongoing hikes to tuition.
Wednesday, more than a 100 students from Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic marched with rain-soaked placards, flags and banners from their St. John’s campuses to the Confederation Building.
The protest was part of a National Day of Action organized across the country as students voiced their demand for free or affordable and accessible education for domestic and international students.
Such demonstrations are not new to the province.
Just this past year, students marched through the streets of St. John’s condemning Memorial University’s doubling of tuition fees for undergraduate-level students and the provincial government’s cuts to funding.
John Harris, of the Memorial University Student Union, says it’s important for students to voice their concerns repeatedly if the responses aren’t satisfactory.
“Affordable education is not an option, it’s a necessity,” Harris said. “And students shouldn’t have to bear the burden of unjust tuition hikes.”
After relentless calls, petitions and emails, Harris says their student union was able to get $10 million from the province which was earmarked to cover a campus renewal fee. That means students currently enrolled won’t have to pay an extra $500 along with tuition.
Mary Feltham, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students in Newfoundland and Labrador, says changes such as these are only possible when students refuse to give up fighting for what’s right.
“We want to make sure no student is choosing between rent or food or getting an education. So we will keep pushing until affordable education becomes a reality for all,” said Feltham.
At Memorial University, an undergraduate, domestic student pays $6,240 for two semesters and an international student pays around $20,790. This doesn’t include other fees such as student services and health insurance.
According to the university’s tuition framework, by 2026 students will pay 12 per cent more than what they paid this year.
At the College of the North Atlantic, tuition fees vary from program to program, depending on the length and supplies required by students.
Compared to 2020, international students at the college are paying almost 27 per cent more than the current tuition. Which means a program that charged $9,500 for two terms in 2020 is now charging $13,672.
Despite the tuition hike, both the post-secondary schools have seen little to no change in their international student enrolment rate. The numbers at MUN have increased only slightly while the college has recorded a 10 per cent jump.
But Harris says even though students are choosing to get an education, the looming thought of student debt after graduation is daunting.
“This is a fight worth fighting.”Student protesters’ chant
“If tuition fees keep going up as they are, we might start losing young and bright students to other provinces,” said Harris.
The student groups say they are open to dialogue with the institutions and provincial officials in a bid to find a more affordable model.
As the rain fell and the students huddled together, they chanted “this is a fight worth fighting.”
Feltham agrees, but says more student grants should be available instead of student loans.
“And conditions to qualify for grants should be made more accessible, especially for our marginalized student community,” Feltham said.