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This article was published 23/1/2015 (1891 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Universities and colleges with low-enrolment programs should consider collaborating in the face of funding shortages, Education and Advanced Learning Minister Peter Bjornson advised Thursday.
But he later made it clear he wasn't telling universities and colleges what to do, and he wasn't telling them to merge programs offered in more than one school.
In fact, he avoided getting specific about the funding crunch facing Manitoba's universities and colleges.
'When enrolment increases as much as it does, is that sustainable? When we increase programs as much as we do, is that sustainable?'‐ Advanced Learning Minister Peter Bjornson
It's not just how much money there is to spend, "It's how we spend our money," Bjornson told a Canadian Federation of Students town hall at the University of Winnipeg. "Universities have to assess their individual programs and the ways they can maintain those programs... (such as) having programs collaboratively offered by two universities, or by one university and one college."
He was responding to a student who feared degree programs such as theology and sociology could suffer in the current climate because they don't produce grads holding jobs with the economic impact of grads from faculties such as engineering.
Bjornson went out of his way to avoid promising anything, and manoeuvred adroitly around any possibility of uttering anything specific as universities and colleges with drastic budget situations brace for the provincial budget coming in the next few months.
"When enrolment increases as much as it does, is that sustainable? When we increase programs as much as we do, is that sustainable?" asked Bjornson.
He refused to say what level of grants the post-secondary schools could expect in the provincial budget, nor would he discuss whether there is any possibility of the government changing the legislated capping of tuition-rate increases at the level of provincial growth. He would not speculate whether the NDP leadership race could affect what the post-secondary schools receive next fall.
Operating grants rose 2.5 per cent last year and had risen by as much as five per cent in recent years.
"I said we would do our best to resource universities to the best of our abilities," said Bjornson. "It is getting more and more challenging. Our economy is tied to a global economy that has been less than forgiving and doesn't show any sign of getting better."
On two specific issues, Bjornson had no solace for students.
The minister told an international student from Nigeria he should expect to continue to pay triple the tuition fees of a Canadian: "It's not a consolation you're paying three times one of the lowest fees in the country — other jurisdictions are even higher."
And to a student lamenting paying close to $200 for each textbook, Bjornson said, "Can we do anything about textbooks? I don't think so. I don't know what we can do to mitigate the prices."
Bjornson would not confirm he will announce public school operating grants next week, though he agreed the last week of January is the traditional time.
As for amounts of money, "We are predictable," he said. Predictable for the NDP would be raising its share of funding public kindergarten to Grade 12 education by the rate of provincial growth, which would translate to about $25 million more than last year — leaving school boards to pick up the rest of the usual $65-million to $80-million overall increase in costs through higher property taxes, cuts or a combination of both.
Bjornson told students he has no easy answers for funding any level of education: "I liken education funding to a seven-sided Rubik's cube, and I can solve six sides."