It’s provincial election time and that means political promises are flying around faster than you can say “save the fishery”
September 22nd, 2011

It’s provincial election time and that means political promises are flying around faster than you can say save the fishery. Perhaps not at all surprising is Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s recently announced commitment to extending the tuition fee freeze at public post-secondary ed institutions for the duration of (her) government. Any other party would be suicidal to challenge that declaration.

The student lobby in this province is formidable—impressively articulate and admirably stubborn. Through the years they have exercised more persuasive powers with government than almost all union leaders combined. But they are also on high moral ground. Everyone knows how high student debt is these days, and everyone decries the burden today’s students have to bear even long before they finish their programs. We can now boast the lowest fees in Canada, giving us a competitive edge, to be sure. Our Atlantic Canadian colleagues routinely pout when they hear about renewed tuition freezes. Who can blame them?

The real challenge for us is how to rationalize new programs that demand high or higher costs than others, when we are inhibited from charging more for tuition. Obviously, we have to find creative ways of funding our initiatives, and ensuring we maintain the quality and integrity of the programs, a daunting challenge when fees are frozen.

Reports from the USA this week revealed that for the first time in quite some time enrolment in graduate programs has actually declined. It’s hard to know exactly why this is so, but speculation below the 49th focuses on two main and related things: the high cost of tuition at American universities and the economic downturn. The maxim used to be that when the economy was low people generally rushed to colleges and universities to upgrade their skills, but those who have jobs are holding on to them while they can, and those who don’t just cannot afford to pay for grad school. This produces not only a current of fear in post-ed institutions but also a lot of anxiety that those who can afford to apply come from faraway places, never intending to stay in the US once they have earned their degrees. So much for domestic highly qualified personnel.

I suppose if all of this is true then Memorial should be more directly marketing our programs in the US. I’d wager that most American students would be shocked to know what it costs to study here—let alone where here is in the first place. WWII brought a lot of Yankees here. Maybe it’s time for a new wave–in peace time.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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