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Will McGifford make the call?

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The pressure is on Advanced Education Minister Diane McGifford — will she allow U of M its massive tuition increases?

The university board of governors meets next Tuesday to set the 2010-2011 budget, which is expected to include cuts, though no one knows yet how deep they could go.

While everyone involved is pretty vague about the timing, and even vaguer about who moved first and what signal anyone gave, deans and department heads were looking at proposals for hefty tuition increases prior to the provincial budget’s being unveiled in March.

That provincial budget included operating grants way below what the university needed, and also included a five per cent increase in tuition fees next fall.

Just as students desperately finished essays and studied for exams in early April, word was getting around that U of M was seeking major increases in tuition in some of its professional schools for next fall, at least nine. There’s a scorecard below.

Thursday, the council on postsecondary education (COPSE) holds its monthly meeting. COPSE has the proposal from U of M — which the university administration has never made public — but is not guaranteeing that it will have a recommendation for McGifford.

COPSE, as everyone undoubtedly knows, is an arm’s-length agency which provides advice to the minister, and does not take any direction from the provincial government.

If COPSE does make recommendations to McGifford, they won’t be made public. In the past, McGifford has approved four requests for major tuition increases from individual schools, and turned down some others. She could approve some and reject others on this long shopping list.

The province says McGifford’s decision will be made public, but no one is saying when.

The Selinger government has five criteria for such increases, a key criterion being demonstrated student support.

That does appear to be somewhat missing here, no referenda having been conducted, the U of M Student Union and Graduate Students Association having been outspoken in their opposition.

U of M says that 70 per cent of any approved increase would go to the faculty, 15 per cent to student aid, and 15 per cent to central administration to cover shared services such as the libraries. The 15 per cent is lower than the share that went to student aid in the past, and it’s the first time central administration has taken a cut.

Meanwhile, the University of Winnipeg is watching the outcome keenly, and says that if U of M gets what it wants, U of W may pitch similar tuition increases for business, education, and maybe other programs when the board of regents sets the budget June 21.

Meanwhile meanwhile, U of M says the board of governors will set a budget Tuesday regardless what McGifford does. Even if she has yet to make any decision, UM has a budget ready to go based on a five per cent tuition increase.

That board of governors starts at 4 p.m., and there are signs that UM president David Barnard expects a quick meeting. He’s scheduled a 7 p.m. event on campus at which he hosts renowned Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail.

Here’s what we know:

At least nine schools at the University of Manitoba have proposed enormous tuition increases.

Two faculties have held public forums and disclosed their requests: Law wants 46.2 per cent over three years, the I.H. Asper School of Business 54.1 per cent over two years for undergraduates and 78.5 per cent over three years for MBA students.

The U of M Students Union has identified other proposed increases, which the university administration will not confirm:

Medicine wants 114 per cent over four years; medical rehabilitation includes 96 per cent for occupational therapy, 62 per cent for respiratory therapy, and 54 per cent for physical therapy, though it is not clear over what period they would be phased-in.

Dentistry is asking for 40 per cent, nursing 40 per cent over two years and agriculture is seeking 20 per cent.

Graduate studies wants a 216 per cent increase by 2012 for continuing fees — the annual fee for students to remain in master’s and PhD programs after two and four years respectively.

Numbers for pharmacy have not become public yet, despite the best efforts of UMSU to ferret them out.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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