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February 27, 2009

Provincial Government a National Leader on Student Aid Initiatives

The Honourable Joan Burke, Minister of Education, said today that suggestions post-secondary tuition fees should be raised to offset the impact of the current economic crisis is not something the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will consider. A recent report by the Education Policy Institute said governments should allow tuition fees to rise to offset endowment funds that have been hurt by the recession and potential cuts in government funding.

"The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador does not share this view," said Minister Burke. "In fact, we are leading the nation in debt-reduction initiatives for our students and have consistently increased funding to our post-secondary institutions. We have every intention of maintaining this position, reflecting the level of importance we place on education for the growth of individuals and our overall growth as a province."

Minister Burke noted that in just five years, the Provincial Government subsidy to Memorial University alone has increased by 84 per cent, from $145.3 million to $266.9 million. This includes funding to offset a freeze on tuition rates � a student aid initiative that benefits all public post-secondary students in the province.

In addition, Budget 2007 allocated $44 million to implement up-front, non-repayable grants, and a 2.5 per cent cut in the interest on student loans. These and other investments, such as additional funding for debt reduction grants, a reduction in parental contributions, and an increase in the income threshold to qualify for interest relief, mean that the Provincial Government�s investment in every post-secondary student in the province has increased by 57 per cent since 2003, from $8, 971 to $14, 119.

Such investments have been recognized by local and national representatives of the Canadian Federation of Students who have acknowledged the Williams Government is far ahead of other jurisdictions in debt reduction initiatives and spending. The approach also appears to be impacting students� decisions on where they will study.

Over the past five years, the number of students leaving the province to study elsewhere in Atlantic Canada has decreased by 54 per cent.

Last month, Minister Burke held a roundtable with post-secondary students and graduates to discuss the best ways to reduce student debt. "This government has already committed to maintaining the freeze on tuition rates and we have no intention of changing our course on that front," said Minister Burke. "My discussions with students and graduates were extremely helpful in gaining insight into what they see as the most productive ways to assist with the cost of post-secondary education. These are now being fully explored as we look to building on our past actions. This is not a time to abandon our post-secondary students. Rather, it is a time to demonstrate support for the people who will eventually lead our province, and continue with progressive initiatives to benefit our students and our province."

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Media contact:
Jacquelyn Howard
Director of Communications
Department of Education
709-729-0048, 689-2624

2009 02 27                                                    2:30 p.m.

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