Did you know that as of 2011-12 over 32% (apprx. 14,000 ) of Nova Scotia’s university students were “Out-Of-Province” (OOP); the highest percentage in Canada![i]  And there’s a good reason why. At its most basic, students coming from other Canadian provinces are essential to the health of Nova Scotia’s university system. Putting aside the obvious benefits of having a diverse school, by choosing to attend a Nova Scotia university OOP students are also helping soften the effects of a demographic decline in the province’s own prime university cohort (18-29 year olds). Ontario is the only Canadian this province where this age group continues to grow—and it is projected to continue until 2017- which is good for Nova Scotia because Ontarians represent nearly half of all OOP students and 15% of the total student population (see Table 1). Without Ontario, it’s tough to see Nova Scotia maintaining current enrolment levels.[ii]

Of course, Nova Scotia has had to be mindful that other provinces, not least Ontario, are now making their own efforts to retain local students. Most notably, Ontario is shooting for 60,000 new post-secondary spaces, has introduced a 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant, and maintains the $15,000 per year Ontario Graduate Scholarship—all of which contribute to retention and attraction of educated people.[iii] These not only may help explain the lack of growth in Nova Scotia’s OOP student population since 2009, but also suggest that it’s very unlikely that Nova Scotia will see substantial enrolment gains from other provinces.

In this context, changes to Nova Scotia’s tuition structure are especially important—though of course they’re always important. In 2008 the Province established a Nova Scotia Student Bursary (NSSB) that all resident Nova Scotia students received in the form of significant tuition breaks.[iv] In 2010-11, other Canadian students became eligible for a more modest $261 bursary (OOP Bursary). The bursaries have since been renewed at the same values. Although the government hasn’t said if these will become a permanent feature, for the time being they have created a de facto differential tuition for out of province students—who now pay roughly $1,022 more for full-time study than a resident Nova Scotian student. This makes Nova Scotia one of only three Canadian provinces to charge a differential tuition fee for out of province students.

Fortunately, a tuition cap is in place that applies to all Canadian students in the vast majority of programs, but the 2012-15 MOU between the Provinces and the Universities – the agreement that sets the terms of their partnership, i.e. why the government will give them operating funding – commits the parties to consider deregulating OOP student tuition. Students Nova Scotia already opposes out-of-province differential tuition and believes that Nova Scotia cannot afford to expand the existing differential any further through deregulation: to do so could threaten the sustainability of the university system and our province’s long-term prosperity.

At a time of demographic decline and heightened competition for students, miscalculating OOP students’ willingness and ability to pay for a Nova Scotia education could backfire quickly and badly for this province and its institutions.

[i] MPHEC, 2012. 2011/12 Enrolment Statistics

[ii] Statistics Canada, 2009. Canadian Demographics to 2030

[iv] LAE, 2011. Backgrounder: University Funding  and Student Assistance. http://www.gov.ns.ca/lae/docs/studentassisuniversityfundbg.pdf