As published on page A5 on December 14, 2006

SAINT JOHN – There will be renewed incentive to enrol in one of New Brunswick’s universities next year once the province dangles a $2,000 tuition credit in front of potential students.

The one-time entrance grant is meant to lower the cost of post-secondary education, but is also seen as a shot in the arm for ailing university enrolment around the province. Offering the credit means an estimated $10 million will be needed from the province annually. It also means another election promise kept by the Liberals.

“With this initiative we ensure that post-secondary education is accessible and affordable,” says Finance Minister Victor Boudreau, who made the announcement Wednesday.

Under the plan, the tuition credit will be handed to any first-year student entering a degree-granting program at one of four publicly funded universities in the province – University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, Mount Allison University and the Université de Moncton.

Even though he said the thrust of the plan is to remove financial barriers, Boudreau acknowledged there could be enrolment gains for the universities.

“Obviously, it also encourages students to go to school here,” he says.

The finance minister added that this entrance grant, given before enrolment, is book-ended by the province’s 50-per-cent tax rebate on tuition, received after graduation.

“We do try to put in as many incentives as we can,” he said.

But critics contend the government’s plan fails on all levels: making higher education neither more accessible nor appealing.

“This grant does nothing to increase accessibility,” said Colin Banks, president of the St. Thomas University Student Union.

“How does this help students in second-, third- or fourth-year?”

Banks said making the first year of university less expensive will only add to the problem of students dropping out in upper years. He also said offering tuition money up front is a gimmick to lure out-of-province students.

“This is only to be able compete more adequately with Nova Scotia schools,” he said. “And it’s a carrot, whether they say so or not.”

He argued it would be more effective for the province to contribute money every year of the degree.

Charles Cirtwill, the acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said affordability and accessibility, the centerpiece of the government’s policy, are no better off with the extra money.

“There’s no competitive pressure on New Brunswick institutions, so you’ll see tuition basically stay the same, or continue to grow,” he said.

He also disagreed that one-time grants are enough incentive. But he said that issue lies with the universities, not the province.

“The pressure should be on Mount Allison or UNB to eliminate deadwood programs and offer programs that lead to employment opportunities in the province,” he said. “If schools aren’t attractive to university students, then glossing over the problem with a little extra money isn’t going to solve anything.”