Universities are still not a priority for the Stefanson government
The Speech from the Throne signals that this government will continue to interfere with Manitoba’s universities, giving primacy to the immediate needs of the labour market rather than student and societal long-term goals.
This simplistic view will undermine university autonomy and breadth, which has served so well to ensure positive outcomes for students, businesses, and the province. Except where clearly warranted by exceptional circumstances, program-specific funding threatens the primary role of a university, which is to equip future generations with general competencies that serve not only economic interests but also personal and societal ends.
Tellingly, the Premier refuses to reject American funding models that have been used to reduce support for universities and in particular harmed disadvantaged students. The proposed use of narrow performance-based metrics fails to appreciate the diversity of student interests and aptitudes, and the needs of society as well as business. Faculty and concerned Manitobans await official confirmation that the Conservative government rejects such policies.
Since this policy was floated by former Premier Brian Pallister in October 2020, MOFA has repeatedly provided successive ministers with legitimate evidence that points out the many shortfalls of the policy. While we are cautiously optimistic that the Conservative government has signaled its intention to hold back on performance-specific funding in the near future, we remain concerned that the government lacks a coherent vision for our universities that recognizes both their role and autonomy in our province.
We await the day when the government chooses to engage in genuine consultation where all sides are able to fairly exchange ideas. To date, we have been rebuffed in our repeated attempts to have a meaningful dialogue with this government. We hope that the government will meaningfully consult and work with our faculty, instead of continuing to work against them.
MOFA also awaits concrete proposals to repair the fiscal damage done to our universities during their term in office and the off-loading of costs on students, many with limited financial resources. Since taking office, the PC government has cut grants to universities by roughly 1/5 with inflation. For a government that claims to value post-secondary education, its actions do not match its rhetoric. What the Speech from the Throne offered instead was largely silence.
In the coming days, MOFA will look for a clear response that the Conservative government will abandon these American funding models. We will continue to speak out against the damaging impact of inadequate funding on post-secondary institutions and students, and will vigorously defend the legislated autonomy of faculty and universities.