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Interview: how NL students defeated loans and won grants

April 7, 2014

After keeping tuition frozen for 15 years, a united student movement has made Newfoundland and Labrador the first province to eliminate student loans and replace them with needs-based grants. interviewed Michael Walsh, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Student-NL, on how these victories were achieved.
1. Can you describe the significance of the victory over loans and what impact this will have on student debt?
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has listened to students and committed in Budget 2014 to replacing the provincial student loans program with a full system of needs-based grants. This measure will reduce student debt to just over half of the average debt level of just a decade ago. It's projected that average student debt upon graduation will fall to about $15,000. 
2. How was this victory achieved and what was the role of mobilizations?
The key to achieving these victories was our solidarity. Every public college and university student in Newfoundland and Labrador is a member of the Canadian Federation of Students. By presenting a united front to government and the general public we've been able to build public support for our goals and pressure the government to act on our policy demands.
Sound research, effective lobbying, and mobilization all played important roles in achieving our victories. While public protest has played a role in the student movement in NL, much of our work has been in shaping public dialogue and building support for our goals in other ways, like petition, post-card, and email drives. Our mobilizations have taken a variety of forms, and this diversity of tactics has been important in our organising.
3. What is tuition in Newfoundland and how has it been kept so low?
Undergraduate tuition fees for a full-time program are $2,550 per year for Canadian students, and $8,800 for international students. Graduate and college tuition fees vary by program and duration of study.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has reduced or frozen tuition fees every year for fifteen consecutive years now. Successive governments have made post-secondary education a priority because of the work of the student movement.
4. Some students, frustrated with the pace of change, have advocated defederation from the CFS as a strategy. What impact would this have on the student movement?
Our strength is in our numbers, and students are only successful in achieving our goals when we remain united. As evidenced by the example in Newfoundland and Labrador, the best way for students to win measures that increase accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education is to be part of a united, progressive student movement, and in Canada that means being a member of the Canadian Federation of Students.
5. How can we strengthen the student movement so we can replicate examples from Quebec and Newfoundland across the country?
The victories of the student movement in Newfoundland and Labrador have been as a direct result of our unity. Sometimes students in other parts of Canada look to the example from Quebec and think that mass strikes are the key to achieving our goals, but in NL we have won the lowest tuition fees in the country and the elimination of provincial student loans without sustained strike action. Our strong lobby efforts complimented by sound research and mobilizations of different types have been effective because students on every public college and university campus have been united in our actions and in our recommendations to government. The lesson to take from NL is that solidarity works.

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