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This article was published 4/10/2016 (1201 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Pallister government signalled Tuesday that it is seriously considering lifting the cap on post-secondary tuition increases.
And the Tories are already telling schools they should free up more student-aid money for students, rather than putting the money in endowment funds that pay out only interest.
"We're going to evaluate all the possibilities. I don't want to dismiss the possibility" of changing tuition policy, Premier Brian Pallister told reporters.
Pallister said he appreciates the opportunities that affordable post-secondary education offers students, but he recognizes the challenges that Manitoba's universities and colleges face financially with the third-lowest tuition fees in Canada.
The former NDP government passed legislation several years ago that tied tuition-fee hikes to the province's cost of living after freezing tuition at 1999 levels for almost a decade.
University of Manitoba president David Barnard has pointed out repeatedly that an undergraduate student carrying a maximum course load would have to pay about $2,000 more a year for Manitoba to catch up with fees in Saskatchewan, which is in the mid-range of provincial tuition levels.
Pallister wouldn't speculate how much tuition would be allowed to rise — if that happens — but said that the market has not been allowed to determine rates for a very long time.
Education Minister Ian Wishart had earlier told the legislature that the current method of funding post-secondary education is not sustainable.
"We're certainly looking at long-term funding for post-secondary institutions," Wishart told reporters.
He also pointed out where Manitoba's tuition ranks nationally: "We're considered a deal, especially by international students," he said.
Foreign students pay significant surcharges here, but significantly less than they'd pay in many other provinces.
Wishart said that 80 per cent of student aid goes into endowment funds, which pay out only the annual interest earned. "The current money being spent there is going into endowments — we're certainly going to change that," he said.
And while inflation pushed tuition up this year, and the government continued to raise operating grants 2.5 per cent for universities and two per cent for colleges, the schools' costs went up more.
"They're losing ground," he said.
Wishart said that he's aware that the NDP had almost always rejected occasional bids by professional schools and graduate programs to hike their own fees substantially, and that the NDP had turned down using ancillary fees for a variety of services and programs to generate revenue. He was non-committal on any change.
The minister said the province believes the U of M can raise more revenue through its own research and through the SmartPark private researchers on campus.
"We are talking to the university about research into the future," he said.
New Democrat education critic Wab Kinew accused the Tories during question period of hiding their plans for tuition, and of threatening the affordability of post-secondary education.
He later lauded the role of scholarships and bursaries, but warned that, "There's no guarantee in the PC plan that (money) would go to needy students.
"Manitoba is in a good spot right now," said Kinew, who added that even another $1,000 in added fees would be too high for many low-income students.
University of Manitoba communications manager John Danakas said that Wishart and the university are talking about endowments: "The discussion has been introduced very recently," he said.
University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee said in a prepared statement late Tuesday afternoon that, "We are encouraged that this government is aware of the immediate needs of students and values the post-secondary system as vital to the health of the provincial economy."