CANADA: Tuition-fee patchwork siphons students

Hundreds of bargain-hunting Canadian students have moved to Newfoundland and Labrador, a province with the lowest tuition fees in the country. The recent student migration is one of the strange things to emerge in a country where individual provincial governments fund university operations, while the federal government is relegated to observing the wild patchwork of varying fees.

Since 1999, the number of students studying at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) hailing from the country's three other Atlantic provinces has increased 10-fold. In the past year, MUN has recorded a 15% increase in the number of its maritime neighbours' students attending its institution - this at a time when overall enrolments in the region have decreased.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government decided in 2000 to reduce tuition fees. One year of an undergraduate degree at MUN costs only C$2,550 (US$2,400) - in contrast to C$6,800 for a year of study at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University.

"Premiers in the maritimes are actively contributing to out-migration by maintaining high tuition fees," said Kaley Kennedy, Nova Scotia representative of the Canadian Federation of Students. Kennedy said the current provincial government "would be wise to consider the tuition fee policies that make Memorial University the institution of choice for hundreds of Nova Scotian".

While the province of Quebec technically has the lowest fees in the country, close to C$1,900 per year, those fees are only reserved for Quebec residents, with its universities charging Canadian students who come from outside of Quebec the country-wide average, which at Montreal's Concordia University means C$5,378.

Since confederation 141 years ago, Canada's provinces were given jurisdiction over social spending, including the operation of its universities, with the federal government allowed only to fund research. That jurisdictional independence has meant that some provinces have poured more money into their educational coffers than others. Some have deregulated tuition fees to allow universities to make up the funding shortfalls and others have simply set tuition fee rates higher than other provinces.

That leaves a situation where one Canadian student can pay $2,000 for an undergraduate arts degree while another pays close to $6,000. It also means that deregulated professional programmes such as dentistry can mean $20,000 a year for Ontario students, while Quebec residents will be able to earn the degree for only $3,200 per year.

The provinces do agree on one thing, though. They all charge much higher fees for international students, the average last year being just under $14,000 a year for an undergraduate degree. Nevertheless, international students would be wise to shop around, as the international tuition fees also vary from province to province.