Government accused of robbing students of education
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Manitoba university students and faculty went to the legislature Thursday to report a “theft.”
They say rising tuition fees and lower funding levels are robbing a generation of educational opportunities.
Members of the Canadian Federation of Students and the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations said operating grants to universities have decreased 3.3 per cent, and tuition revenue has increased 37 per cent, since the Progressive Conservative government came to power in 2016.
“Students can’t afford to pay more,” said Marie Paule Ehoussou of the Canadian Federation of Students. “Students have been watching tuition climb while the cost of living is skyrocketing.”
She said she’s concerned university students will be pressured financially to meet labour market demands.
Last year, the PC government amended the Advanced Education Administration Act to enable the minister to issue guidelines on tuition fees. A university’s provincial funding is to be reduced by the amount that the university charges in excess of the guidelines.
“Bill 33 is an inter-generational theft of opportunity,” said Patrick Noël, a professor at Universite de Saint-Boniface. “The very politicians who are proposing that bill enjoyed lower tuition when they went to college. Now they want to increase tuition for a younger generation,” Noël said.
“Our public universities are part of our public education system and they benefit all Manitobans. They provide skilled leaders for business and industry,” said Scott Forbes, MOFA president.
“When the PCs took office in 2016, the provincial government at the time provided 2.4 dollars of public support for every dollar of tuition revenue. That’s fallen to $1.6 dollars in 2022 — a dramatic cut,” he said. “At U of W, in the near future that will be one to one,” said Forbes.
Advanced Education Minister Jon Reyes was not made available for an interview. Instead, he issued a statement.
He said his government “is consulting meaningfully with all of our post-secondary partners to obtain diverse input and feedback to inform the development of a future policy on tuition and student fees for Manitoba as part of Bill 33.”
Ehoussou said there hasn’t been meaningful consultation with students.
“It was rushed, insufficient, prescribed and students were left out,” she said. “Student opinion was an afterthought.”
Reyes noted that feedback can be submitted at EngageMB.
NDP critic Jamie Moses joined the faculty and students to say the Tory government needs to abandon it’s “performance-based funding model” that intends to charge students different tuition depending on their course of study.
Moses slammed the government for appealing a court’s decision to award $19.3 million to the University of Manitoba Faculty Association after it had meddled in negotiations in 2016.
“This is a failure of government to listen to faculty that caused the strike to happen in the first place,” the member for St. Vital said. “Now they’re facing the bill for their inability to work with the people in Manitoba. They ought to pay that bill and listen to students,” he said.
The provincial government defended its decision to appeal the award.
“Like any other litigant, the government takes the advice of its legal counsel,” a government spokesman said. “In this narrow remaining matter, the unprecedented constitutional issues and remedy warrant further consideration by the Court of Appeal. Out of respect for the integrity of the court’s processes, we have no additional comments at this time.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.