The government has been downloading the burden of university funding to students for decades. In 2011-12, tuition and academic fees comprised 34% of all Nova Scotia university revenues, roughly equal to the provincial government’s contribution (34.4%) (Figure 1).[i] University expenditures have increased by 202% since 1989-90 and since 1992-93, average undergraduate tuition fees have increased 157%. Enrolment grew by 20% over the same period.[ii]

Policies Limiting Tuition Growth in Nova Scotia

Each of the Memoranda of Understanding between the Province and its universities contained explicit provisions about tuition—though they left international, medicine, dentistry and law students unprotected.[iii] Table 1 summarizes the tuition policies and changes in provincial funding. In accordance with the tuition cap, average tuition for domestic undergrads grew by 3% in 2012-13.[iv] There have been important additional actions:[v]

  • In 2006-07, the Province directed money from the Federal Infrastructure Trust Fund to a one-time tuition reduction for Nova Scotia students at Nova Scotia institutions ($440 for full-time and $220 for part-time).
  • The Nova Scotia University Student Bursary (NSUSB) was introduced in 2008 to give all Nova Scotia resident students tuition breaks of $761, $1,022, and then $1,263 over the following three years.
  • In 2010-11, other Canadian students received a $261 Out-of-Province University Student Bursary (OOPUSB).

Despite these changes, the overall direction of tuition fees is troubling. The existing 3% tuition cap still allows tuition for all students to rise faster than inflation and, given that the rate of inflation frequently exceeds growth in real wages and student assistance, tuition fee hikes beyond this rate are excessive.

Current Tuition Fees and Differential Fees

According to the Province, the NSUSB brings Nova Scotia tuition below the national average,[vi] but this is only true if you exclude all non-Nova Scotians residents from the calculation AND assume the NSUSB is permanent.

Nova Scotia, in fact, has the third highest undergrad ($5,934) and second highest graduate ($7,613) tuition in Canada.[vii] Combined, the NSUSB and OOPUSB amount to de facto differential tuition for OOP students, who pay $1,022 more than a Nova Scotian student for full-time study. Ontario and Quebec also charge OOP differential tuition (Table 2).

The best rationale for an OOP differential is that these students (and their families) do not pay provincial taxes and should, therefore, be subsidized less than Nova Scotia residents. OOP students are also often understood to have more financial resources than most students.  But there are good reasons to be cautious about this assumption.

  • 70% of all university students in Nova Scotia must borrow to pay for their education, suggesting that a significant number of OOP students are within this population and come from lower income backgrounds.[viii]
  • 30% of OOP students come from within Atlantic Canada (Figure 2).[ix] Increasing the tuition and consequently, the debt, of students from the Atlantic region will further aggravate existing regional outmigration.

Of course, international students in Nova Scotia also pay differential tuition that is significantly higher than domestic student tuition.[x] The differential is meant to cover government’s part in funding post-secondary, since international students and their families have not previously paid taxes. In addition, current tuition caps do not protect international students; in 2012-13 their tuition grew by nearly 4% (See international students factsheet for more information).[xi]

Student Debt In Nova Scotia

The growing burden of tuition coincides with increasing student debt in recent years.

  • Canadians graduate with the 2nd highest student debt levels (relative to post-graduate income) and the highest borrowing costs compared with seven other OECD countries with long-established student aid programs.[xii]
  • Statistics Canada’s most recent student debt data[xiii] shows that Nova Scotian student borrowers had Canada’s highest average student loan debt ($35,703) in 2005, just ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador ($35,672). Other data indicates Nova Scotia still ranked first in student debt in 2009 ($30,128; 13% growth since 2000).[xiv]
  • Students with higher debt levels are more likely to leave their province of study in search of work. Maritime students are the least likely to work in-province after graduation (32% likely versus 18% nationally).[xv] For Nova Scotia, the threat of further outmigration is likely the most troubling aspect of student debt.[xvi]

Canada’s student aid programs are often described as relatively generous, but the Nova Scotia Student Assistance Program was long considered one of Canada’s worst, even by the Province itself. Roughly $23 million in student aid investments since 2011 have improved this situation. Student debt continues to be a significant problem though.[xvii]


Figure 1. 2011-12 University System Funding Envelope (Revenue by Source)


Table 1. Recent Changes to Tuition and Fees and Operating Grant Policies (2004-05 to 2014-15)

Academic Year



Provincial Funding

( % )


(% Change)











































a. No MOU in place for this year; b. These figures reflect the policy for the majority of students, as described in the text; c. This figure readjusted from original MOU based on new data (O’Neill, 2010); d. These figures projected assuming planned 1% funding increment, which is subject to change.





Table 2. 2012-13 Average Tuition and OOPS Tuition Differentials


Domestic Students





Nova Scotia*




Newfoundland and Labrador



Prince Edward Island



New Brunswick




















British Columbia









[i] StudentsNS, 2013.

[ii] CAUT, 2012.

[iii] Government of Nova Scotia, 2005; 2008; 2012.

[iv] MPHEC, 2012.

[v] Labour and Advanced Education, 2011.

[vi] Labour and Advanced Education, 2012.

[vii] Statistics Canada, 2012.

[viii] CUSC, 2012.

[ix] MPHEC, 2012.

[x] MPHEC, 2012.

[xi] MPHEC, 2012.

[xii] Usher, 2005.

[xiii] Statistics Canada, 2008; based on 2005 data.

[xiv] CUSC, 2000; 2009.

[xv] CASA, 2010.

[xvi] Department of Finance-Nova Scotia, 2013.

[xvii] StudentsNS, 2013.