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This article was published 22/3/2017 (1342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

The 17-year ice age may be ending at Manitoba universities now that Premier Brian Pallister has announced a gradual, controlled thaw of the tuition fee freeze imposed by Gary Doer’s New Democratic government in the year 2000. The universities should make sure that their service to students improves steadily and visibly along with the rising prices.

The government will allow university and college tuition fees to rise each year by five per cent plus the general inflation rate to bring them closer to the prices generally charged in Western Canada. At the moment, because of the 17-year freeze, a year of university tuition costs about $4,000 in Manitoba compared with $7,200 in Saskatchewan, $5,800 in Alberta and $5,500 in British Columbia. Newfoundland and Quebec also keep tuition cheap. Manitoba’s fees are the third-cheapest among Canadian provinces.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Minister of Education and Training Ian Wishart</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Minister of Education and Training Ian Wishart

The Manitoba fee freeze seemed at the time like a gift to college and university students and their families, but it has done more harm than good. Enrolments increased, but the numbers of students who completed their studies did not.

At the University of Manitoba, for example, undergraduate enrolment blossomed to 19,000 last fall from 14,000 in the year 2000. The university granted 5,335 degrees in 2016, as compared to 3,877 in 2000. The tuition freeze, along with other factors, filled the university’s classrooms with students who were not going to finish. It was no kindness to them or their families to waste their time and their money.

The freeze was imposed in the interest of access, because no student with the inclination and the ability should be prevented from attending college or university for lack of money. In order to lower a barrier for low-income students, the wealthy and the middle class were given a break they did not need. All taxpaying families were required to subsidize the post-secondary minority. A generous system of scholarships and bursaries is a more efficient way to maintain access. The government and the schools must provide help to those who need it.

Mr. Pallister should not, however, use the tuition thaw as an excuse to cut back provincial support for universities and colleges. Higher learning is a ladder that children can use to rise above their parents. Whole generations can move their society forward in enlightenment, productivity and self-knowledge. A good degree or a recognized diploma gives a young Manitoban freedom to pursue life’s pathways here or abroad. Our post-secondary schools should be kept strong with dependable government support as well as rising tuition income.

The former government tried to make Manitoba graduates stay in this province by giving them a break if they stayed, but that is hardly the point of post-secondary education. Its point is to free people from the limitations imposed by a closed mind or an undeveloped skill. If our graduates find good opportunities in Manitoba, so much the better for Manitoba, but those who achieve eminence elsewhere in Canada or in foreign countries are also Manitoba success stories. The province should not hold them back.

Our colleges and universities have loyally carried on through the long winter of the tuition freeze. Now a fresh breeze is blowing on campus and there’s a feeling of spring in the air. Students and their families may not immediately welcome the price increases. It’s up to the institutions to deliver the corresponding value.