Biased surveys and poor consultation leave students and faculty questioning government motives
The Progressive Conservative government’s plan to continue charging students more in tuition fees while cutting funding for Manitoba’s universities receives a failing grade from Manitoba’s faculty and students. Members of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students- Manitoba called on the government to halt their plan which continues to allow tuition fees to rise while funding remains frozen. New data from MOFA finds that when inflation is factored in, that the PC government has cut grants to universities by 17.8% since taking office. By the same metric, students are paying on average 16.3% more for tuition fees.
“The so-called “consultations” with students on tuition and fees were rushed, insufficient and clearly included students’ opinions as an afterthought,” said Marie Paule Ehoussou, CFS Chairperson. “During the consultation, the majority of students opposed the government’s differential fees plan but it was not acknowledged. In the Government’s own strategic documents for their Skills, Talent and Knowledge plan, students were left out of their stakeholder list.”
The funding cuts at Manitoba’s universities are part of a deliberate strategy of the Stefanson and Pallister governments, one that they have not advertised. They are withdrawing public support for our universities, and shifting the burden onto the backs of students and their families. At the University of Winnipeg, if present trends continue, tuition fees will in two years time, and for the first time in history, will make up a larger share of the operating budget than the provincial grant. That same trend, though less extreme, holds at Manitoba’s other public universities.
“The Premier has stated that her top priority is to find skilled workers for Manitoba business. Those highly skilled workers are trained in our colleges and universities. It is not obvious how cutting support for higher education will increase the supply. Students pay more to get less. Instead of lowering financial barriers to higher education, this government has done the opposite” said MOFA President Scott Forbes.
Since the PCs took office, operating grants for our public universities have been cut from $475.9 million in 2016, to $461.7 million in 2022. Had the PC government simply maintained constant funding in real (inflation adjusted) dollars (the same way that this government adjusts tax brackets to prevent ‘bracket creep’), the budget would have been $555.6 million in 2022. Their annual budget cuts have created more than a $100M budget shortfall for our universities. All while tuition fees have been driven up much faster than inflation to make up for rapidly declining provincial funding.
Rising tuition fees have far outpaced increases to the minimum wage, which students rely upon. Under the Stefanson PCs, higher education is becoming less and less accessible to regular Manitobans, especially those from historically disadvantaged groups. Our public universities should be affordable for all, not just people of means.
“The participation rate in higher education in Manitoba is already near the bottom of the country. Lowering the quality of that education and making it more expensive will not help that. Making students pay more to get less will not increase the pool of highly skilled workers that the Premier and Manitoba businesses desire. Those policies drive our youth away from higher education.” said Forbes. “If the PCs believe that making students pay more for an education of lower quality is a good idea, then they should be honest about that with Manitobans.”
MOFA represents over 1,600 professors, instructors and librarians across all four of Manitoba’s public universities and CFS-MB represents over 45,000 full and part-time postsecondary students.
The full data set is available below.