Classes from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., a lab at 5 p.m., work from 6 to 10 p.m., repeat with varying degrees of success week after week. This, or something similar, is becoming more and more common as the cost of living continues to rise, specifically for university students. The more this trend continues the more the grades, social life, and mental health of many university students will be negatively affected.
The consumer price index (CPI) is a measure of the weighted average of prices of a basket of consumer goods and services, and at a basic level is a good measure of inflation. From 2000 to 2017 CPI increased by 37.96 per cent. This may not seem too high, but a university student’s monthly rent cost paying $300 a month in 2000 would now be paying $413.88 a month, increasing their yearly costs by $1 366.56 just for rent.
While wages have gone up during this time as well, Stats Canada breaks up CPI into different products and services, and there are two that have risen more than the average. Both food and energy have risen more than 50 per cent since 2000, 57.75 per cent and 51.99 per cent respectively. This is significant because it shows that two of the most important costs of living to a student have risen faster than the overall average CPI. Food is an obvious important factor, but so is energy, as we have very cold winters and a lot of apartments have you pay heat as an additional cost.
Another cost that is on the rise is tuition. While this should be expected due to inflation, looking closer reveals a troubling trend. From 2000 to 2017 basic undergraduate tuition at UNB Fredericton increased by 82.28 per cent. This is significantly higher than the 37.96 per cent increase in CPI. This is a clear indicator that tuition is more expensive than it ever has been and this is putting the squeeze on students, whether it be in the moment, or later in life from student loan debt.
UNB Fredericton economics professor Constantine Passaris points to the government as the main culprit in the rising tuition costs. “The amount of government funding to universities is declining and this is the reason tuition costs are on the rise,” said Passaris. “The government must view postsecondary education as an investment for the future instead of as an expense.”
We talked about the student’s role in this and what part we can play. “If you students ask the government if they consider you a valuable resource, they will of course say yes,” he said, smiling. “Put the pressure on and let them know they need to fund that resource. Now more than ever, with our new global economy, we need people with the right skills.”
Passaris also further explained the benefits of this investment for the government. “If they support students going to university they make it possible for them to stay in NB, work in NB and pay taxes in NB. Investment in post-secondary education will pay these dividends in the future.”
I did some checking on the decline in provincial funding and found the following quote in UNB’s 2018-19 consolidated budget. “The provincial grant was frozen at the same level for three out of four years, from fiscal years ending 2014 to 2017, which is largely responsible for the reduction in the funding percentage since that time… UNB recognizes the fiscal situation of the province and that it is essential to reduce our reliance on government funding as funding levels have become increasingly unpredictable.” UNB and other post-secondary institutions should not have to worry about the unpredictability of government funding, and this is the core reason for rising tuition costs.
Erinn Sharpe, a UNB student from Sussex who lives in an apartment building near campus, says her “rent is $557.50 utilities included, and internet is an extra $30… Groceries are roughly $300 a month and cabs and bus fares are around $200.” She holds two jobs and works around 32 hours a week to pay their rent and other costs of living.
When asked how much free time between work and classes to study she has, Sharpe laughed. “None. I go straight to work after school. It no doubt affects my grades.” She relies heavily on student loans as she doesn’t have a lot of parental support, which is another huge factor for kids trying to go to university. Passaris also talked about how “a lot of New Brunswickers are first-generation university students and a lot of them will not have financial support from their parents,” making it that much more difficult to attend university.
With the rising costs of living that are affecting university students, many argue it is our government’s responsibility to fund one of their most valuable assets. As Passaris says so eloquently, “our government must view students as what they are; an investment for the future of a fast-changing economy, that every day is more about what’s between our ears than what’s below our feet.”