A plan to help students through postsecondary spending is featured in the platforms of both major parties, leading up to the Nov. 7 provincial election.
However, their approaches to spending are completely different.
Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party have introduced the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship and the Saskatchewan Advance Grant for Education Savings.
The advantage scholarship would provide grade 12 graduates with $500 per year, for four years, which they can use toward tuition. The advantage grant, meanwhile, will match 10 per cent of parental contributions to any child’s Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) for up to $250 annually.
On the other hand, if elected, Dwain Lingenfelter and the NDP have said they will bring back a fully-funded tuition freeze for Saskatchewan universities and the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.
Under Lorne Calvert’s NDP government, a tuition freeze was implemented for five years from 2004-09. Since the Sask. Party lifted that freeze, average undergraduate tuition in the province has gone up three per cent in both 2009-10 and 2011-12, and five per cent in 2010-11 for a total of just over $500.
“Electing an NDP government means students in 2015 will pay the same tuition at our universities and SIAST campuses as they do today,” said Lingenfelter in a release.
The NDP platform also includes raising the maximum allowable family income level for student loans, increasing training opportunities at postsecondary institutions, investing in on-reserve courses and funding 100 new graduate student bursaries. The total NDP postsecondary package will cost an estimated $313 million over four years if implemented.
In response, Wall told Regina’s Leader-Post that the NDP’s platform is reckless and that freezes are poor policy, mostly because governments often fail to live up to their pledges to increase funding in order to make up for tuition shortfalls.
University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon also spoke out against the NDP’s proposed tuition freeze, saying it “would overstep the bounds of any Saskatchewan government.”
According to the University of Saskatchewan Act of 1995, the setting of tuition rates is the sole responsibility of the Board of Governors, and MacKinnon claims there are “very good reasons for placing this authority with our board.”
He said the board examines tuition rates closely and has the best interests of the university, students and residents of Saskatchewan in mind. He also added that research shows tuition is not the main barrier affecting access to postsecondary education, but is instead the result of the influence of parents and family members.
Canadian Federation of Students Saskatchewan Chairperson Haanim Nur, who also sits on the University of Regina Students’ Union executive, feels a tuition freeze would be a move forward for the province and would simply allow more people access to university and SIAST. She said both the CFS and the URSU are publicly endorsing a freeze.
Nur said the Sask. Party’s platform overlooks the needs of students who are currently enrolled in postsecondary institutions, as well as students whose parents cannot afford to contribute to the RESP program.
“It eliminates those who can’t afford it and need it the most,” she said.
She also pointed out that provincial governments across the country regularly cap tuition increases at a certain percentage, therefore claiming it is in governments’ mandate to regulate tuition.
U of S Students’ Union President Scott Hitchings said he sees no place for the government’s hand in setting tuition prices, and suggests the USSU will instead be lobbying for more grants, scholarships and bursaries. He explained that a tuition freeze is too broad a policy and helps students whose parents can already afford the cost of postsecondary education.
“Even if they were to freeze tuition at the level it’s at now, it is still going to be hard for some people to pay. So instead of capping it at a level that’s unaffordable for some people, find out the people who it is unaffordable for and give them money to help,” Hitchings said.
“We could be lobbying for tuition to stay the same as it is right now, but that is not something we are going to be asking from the government. That is something I am going to be doing at the Board of Governors meetings.”
University of Saskatchewan professor David McGrane, an expert in Saskatchewan politics, said freezing tuition is a sure way to help out all students in one fell swoop. But McGrane also mentioned freezes can have harsh effects on a school’s quality, like leading to larger class sizes with fewer qualified professors.
“It comes down to the argument of people being concerned about maintaining the quality of education on one side, and people being concerned about the affordability of education on the other side.”
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf