Universities in Nova Scotia are crying foul after the province announced new caps on tuition and funding levels that are below last year's rate of inflation, and which come with strings attached.
The Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents declined an interview request, but said in a media release the province's announcement is the second "serious blow" to the sector in two weeks.
In the release, the council said the one-year plan creates unnecessary financial hardship for many universities.
"The Minister decided on an approach that undermines any sense of partnership, collaboration or vision for the future of one of the province's most strategically important sectors," said David Dingwall, the chair of the council and president of Cape Breton University. "There is much in today's announcement that requires greater clarity."
Small to medium-sized universities will see a two per cent operating grant increase in 2024/25, but Dalhousie University's grant is expected to remain the same as this year until it presents a plan on how it will contribute to provincial priorities. Inflation in Nova Scotia last year was four per cent.
Kim Brooks, the president of Dalhousie University, said the institution's costs have been rising faster than the provincial grant.
"We were already planning for a tighter budget year based on our economic climate and enrolment scenario," Brooks said in a statement. "Now, we know that some of our imminent budget decisions have become a little more difficult."
Kim Brooks is Dalhousie's president and vice-chancellor. (Submitted by Dalhousie University)
Brooks said the university is prepared to engage with the province about how they can align priorities.
"We know the province is experiencing unprecedented growth, which has created a set of well-known pressures and opportunities," she added.
The Department of Advanced Education said it will cap tuition increases for Nova Scotia students at two per cent, down from three per cent.
Most universities will also be expected to increase international student tuition rates by at least nine per cent — with the exception of Dalhousie University and University of King's College, which raised their rates last year.
Minister of Advanced Education Brian Wong said the province is moving forward with negotiations with each of the 10 universities in Nova Scotia.
"We are very confident our university sector is going to come to the table with us," said Wong at a news conference on Friday.
If the universities want to receive the entirety of funding, they will have to fill more than 97 per cent of health-care seats. A failure to meet that benchmark would result in a 10 per cent loss of funding for Dalhousie, and three per cent for others.
The province said universities will have to work toward campus housing for at least 15 per cent of their full-time students. Currently Dalhousie, Cape Breton University and NSCAD fall short of that mark.
Cape Breton is being asked to show plans to house 300 more students. (Matthew Moore/CBC)
If progress is not made, the province could impose student enrolment caps.
Some universities could have 10 per cent of the funding withheld until they can show plans to add additional student housing. Dalhousie will have to provide plans to house an additional 200 students and CBU 300.
Wong said the units for CBU students as part of a development at the old Tartan Downs racetrack could go toward that.
The government is also requesting universities submit plans in the summer about how they will contribute to the provincial priorities from 2025 to 2028.
Wong said the plans are expected to include how they will tailor programs to meet labour market needs, improve education efficiency and conduct research in areas focused on provincial priorities.
The federal government recently announced it will cap the number of international student permits over the next two years. Ottawa says the measure is to stabilize the number of international students, who often arrive without "the proper supports they need to succeed."
Nova Scotia is also asking universities to develop a long-term international student sustainability plan. The province is asking universities to outline how students will be recruited, housed, supported and connected to the labour market.
"By increasing international student tuition by a minimum of nine per cent simply aligns tuition for international students with what the real costs of tuition are," said Wong.
The provincial government says it provided $461.1 million to the universities in 2023-24 and the additional operating funding for the one-year agreements is estimated to be $3.6 million.
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