Privatization of Adult Basic Education costly for students and public

St. John's (08 April 2016) — Privatizing Adult Basic Education in Newfoundland and Labrador is proving costly for both students and the public. Documents obtained by NAPE/NUPGE through an Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act request, show that privatization has meant higher costs and tuition fees yet, at the same time the number of students has dropped.  The only winners are the private colleges that got contracts.

Cost per student up 88 per cent since privatization

The average cost per student increased by 88 per cent since the service was first privatized. That’s an increase from $3,342 to $6,287 per student. 

Total operating costs jumped by 31 per cent. In 2013/14, operating costs were $7.6 million. Two years later, in 2015–16, costs were $10 million, or 31 per cent higher.

Not surprisingly, as costs have gone up, the number of students has dropped. In 2013/14, there were 2,271 students enrolled and 404 graduates. By 2015/16 there were only 1,591 students enrolled and the number of graduates had dropped to 132.

The financial cost of privatizing adult basic education pales in comparison to the human cost. Adult basic education was supposed to give people the skills they needed to get work or go onto other training. A drop in enrollment means people are not getting the education that could provide them with a decent income and stable employment.  It represents people being forced to abandon their hope for a better life.

Privatization did exactly the reverse of what the government claimed it would

When the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced it was privatizing adult basic education in 2013, the government claimed it would lower costs and increase the number of graduates. Three years later, it’s clear the government was very, very wrong. Like most privatization schemes, privatizing adult basic education pushed up costs and lowered quality.

History of problems with college privatization in Newfoundland and Labrador

College privatization has been a problem in Newfoundland and Labrador before. In the 1990s, cuts to provincial funding for post-secondary education forced people to turn to private colleges for training. But the bankruptcy of the largest private college, Career Academy, left thousands of students struggling to complete their training. Many students were left with large debts and no way of completing their education.

In 2010, the Globe and Mail reported that 48 per cent of those who attended private colleges in Newfoundland and Labrador were unable to repay their students loans. While many people graduating from college and university are having trouble getting decent work, the percentage of private college students unable to repay loans was more than double the rate for those who attended public post-secondary institutions. That suggests serious problems with both the cost and quality of training at private colleges.

Danger that lessons of privatizing Adult Basic Education will be ignored

All too often the problems that come with privatizing public services are dismissed as isolated incidents. Politicians who are unconcerned about the long-term consequences of their actions ignore the evidence about privatization.

There is a danger that the lessons the government of Newfoundland and Labrador should be learning from the privatization of Adult Basic Education will be ignored. In an interview with NTV, the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills suggested that the problems may be specific to this privatization scheme.

With the provincial government considering large-scale privatization of public services, the financial and human costs of ignoring the evidence that privatization doesn’t work could be very high indeed for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE


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