The COVID-19 pandemic devastated industries and organizations across the country. Countless businesses closed their doors indefinitely, and even more Canadian residents lost their jobs. This led to a major slow-down in the economy and, eventually, an economic recession. Still, many organizations managed to adapt to virtual operations. The healthcare sector, for example, effectively migrated to the virtual platform, offering telehealth consultations and other online services. As for the retail industry, companies moved online as well, leading to a huge boom in e-commerce. With this, the unemployment rate began to drop. However, not all sectors were as lucky.
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The Pandemic's Effects on the Educational Sector
The educational institutions, in particular, bore the brunt of the health crisis. Face-to-face classes were impossible, given the nature of the virus. As such, students of all levels had to adapt to remote learning arrangements. With no students left on campus, schools lost a bulk of their earnings from on-site cafeterias and other food providers. It was the same case with after-school activities, such as clubs, tutorial sessions, and other extra curricular activities.
In addition, post-secondary students who lived away from home packed up and left their university accommodations, so that they could live closer to their families. This removed boarding fees from the educational sector’s revenue streams. Educational institutions were left with only tuition fees as their primary source of income generation. Regardless, schools needed to find a way to maintain operations in spite of the massive budget cuts. Some opted to increase their tuition fees. However, many weren’t happy with this, as is the case with the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).
MUN Faces Backlash for Tuition Hike
Last July 9, MUN announced that it would be increasing its tuition fees to as much as $6,000 per year for Canadian students. Before the tuition fee increase, students residing in Newfoundland and Labrador paid a set fee of $2,550 a year. Meanwhile, students coming from other areas of Canada paid $3,330. For international students, the original tuition fee of $11,460 would increase to $20,000. According to MUN, changes would take effect in the fall of 2022.
Kat McLaughlin, the Newfoundland and Labrador Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, expressed her disapproval of this decision. According to her, the tuition fee hike would make students feel upset and anxious about their future. In a similar response, Jim Dinn of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly stated that the tuition hike only serves to turn people away. It’s counterintuitive as it will dissuade the Canadian youth from pursuing further education. Moreover, the price increase is a huge jump, so many families must revisit their current education savings strategies.
For parents who are contributing to an education savings plan, they will need to rethink their annual contributions to acquire the necessary funding for their children. For example, one might have to deposit a greater amount in their TFSAs and reallocate its investments to optimize earnings. Despite their tax advantages, these accounts may no longer be enough to cover the university’s tuition fees. The same goes for RESPs. Similar to TFSAs, these accounts are specifically for saving for a child’s post-secondary education. Even with the Canadian government supplementing individual contributions, the tuition fee hike as well as steadily rising prices for accommodations and basic necessities makes it difficult for investment vehicles to adequately compensate for education-related fees.
MUN has not increased its tuition fees since 1997. It also offers one of the lowest tuition fees in the country — far below the current average of $6,610. Thus, the sudden shift was a surprise to many.
Provision of Government Assistance
The provincial government responded to the public’s criticisms by altering their grant and loans programs. Now, low- to middle-income students can apply for a non-repayable grant for as much as $3,450. As for students who don’t qualify for this grant, they’re still eligible for a student loan limit increase. The limit increased from $40 to $100 every week. Weekly assistance was also increased from $140 to $200. These government-sponsored benefits should assist students and their families who are struggling with the recent tuition increase. Whether this is adequate still remains to be seen.
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