Manitoba NDP Leader Greg Selinger says he will turn student loans into non-repayable grants if he is re-elected premier on April 19.
"That will make a huge difference for young people in Manitoba," Selinger said at the University of Manitoba's Bannatyne Campus Monday morning. "It's a game-changer for young people, particularly for people from low-income or moderate-income family backgrounds."
Selinger is also promising to provide free tuition up to age 25 for students who are in the child-welfare system. Currently, the program covers those up to 21, the age at which youth age out of care. A re-elected NDP would also double funding for scholarships and bursaries. The numbers of youth from CFS would only make up a small component of the overall program at first. Selinger hopes the new program changes that and encourages more people with a history in the child-welfare system to enrol.
"It gives them a pathway to a future," Selinger said.
Selinger says the $40-million price tag for the NDP's plan is affordable within the government's fiscal projections. It will relieve pressure and increase completion rates for young students, Selinger added.
"We want more young people to say, 'Wow, I can go and get a post-secondary education now. I can get a college education," Selinger said.
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The Manitoba Liberals have also promised to convert student loans into grants at a cost of $10 million in November.
Selinger says the Liberals have underestimated the cost. Michael Barkman, Manitoba chairperson with the Canadian Federation of Students, said the Liberal plan is contingent on academic performance, which potentially excludes some students in need.
"The Liberal plan isn't quite up to snuff," he said, adding the Liberal grants would be doled out at the end of the semester based on grades.
"The NDP is giving the grant at the beginning of the semester and it's not contingent on your academic performance."
The New Democrats in Saskatchewan, where there is also an election campaign underway, have made a similar promise.
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The Progressive Conservatives are expected to release the party's stance on post-secondary education next week.