As Memorial University moves closer to establishing the first law school in Newfoundland and Labrador, concerns have been raised about the ability of the school to compete on a national playing field.
One key area of concern is tuition. According to a report published by Memorial University, tuition will need to be $30,000 a year for all three years to ensure the law school is revenue neutral, one of the conditions on which MUN’s senate endorsed the proposal.
“At $30,000, it will be among the most expensive schools in the country. Unlike other Canadian law schools, MUN Law would have no alumni network or institutional experience. For these reasons, it will be worth less than other law schools, especially in the early years,” says Ian Moffatt, an articling student with Benson Buffett in St. John’s.
In Atlantic Canada, Dalhousie University’s law school costs students more than $18,000 a year and the University of New Brunswick costs roughly $11,000 annually. At $30,000 a year, MUN would be the second most expensive law school in the country after the University of Toronto, which has a robust scholarship and bursary program.
Memorial University is quick to point out that no tuition has been set and that there is much work to be done before a concrete proposal goes to the board of regents for approval.
“Our current estimate is a 300-student school with an annual operating cost, including financing for a new building, of about $9 million. In the coming months, there will be a deep-dive market study to determine interest among potential students, [and] there will be further work identifying donors for a new program and other funding sources to mitigate expenses for students,” says MUN spokesman David Sorensen in St. John’s.
However, he says, “Our intention is that the tuition be competitive with other schools in the country and region.”
Government funding could undoubtedly lower the annual tuition estimate, but there is skepticism that the provincial government would have money to spare for a law school. In fact, Memorial University’s operating grant continues to be cut. Last year, it was reduced by $9 million.
The law society’s support is also conditional. Following a feasibility report in 2013 — the third prepared on the issue since 1976 — the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador supported the establishment of a law school, at least in principle. “The law society notes that the proposal as endorsed by the senate is based on stated objectives of cost neutrality and that Memorial University has indicated that this is only one step in a long process, which could take three to four years,” said Brenda Grimes, the society’s executive director in St. John’s. It is estimated that the MUN Faculty of Law will have an annual operating cost of about $9 million.
Moffatt is also concerned that the new school is poorly positioned to start a law school from scratch. “It would be a huge undertaking. Given the many challenges the university is facing in maintaining existing operations, it seems unlikely that it could produce a law school comparable to others around the country.”