The University of Manitoba is nixing a proposed 330 per cent fee hike for graduate students for the time being, in light of a backlash from students and a call from the province's education minister not to go ahead with the increase.

University officials confirmed on Thursday afternoon that they are withdrawing a proposal they had planned to present at a meeting of the Council on Post-Secondary Education (COPSE) on Friday.

The University of Manitoba Graduate Students' Association (UMGSA) has cancelled a rally it had planned for Friday to oppose the fee increase, but representatives say they're worried the university may try to propose another fee hike at next month's COPSE meeting.

"Start working with us to develop a proposal that would be responsible," said association president Laura Rempel.

Sam Esfandiarpour

Sam Esfandiarpour, a PhD candidate in civil engineering, says talk of the proposed increase has distracted him and other graduate students. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Education Minister James Allum said he's pleased to hear the university has backed away from its proposal after he intervened in the matter.

Allum said the fee increase for graduate students is unacceptable and he felt he had to step in.

"It doesn't happen all the time, but it's not unprecedented," he said Thursday.

"We wanted to be sure that university students have the opportunity for an affordable education."

Earlier in the day, Allum's office issued a statement (see below) urging the university to discuss the fee increase with students.

'It’s clear that the University of Manitoba hasn’t fully consulted with students and this timeline is not acceptable for this fee increase. The minister has asked the university to go back and further consult with students and he has advised them to withdraw this proposal to COPSE," Allum's statement reads in part.

Grad students pay a program fee in their first year plus a yearly “continuing fee” every year after that.

Right now, the continuing fee is $700 per year, but the Faculty of Graduate Studies wanted to increase that incrementally to $3,000 a year by 2016 — an increase of about 328 per cent.

In a statement, University of Manitoba president David Barnard said the school has to increase fees in order to maintain graduate programs.

"High quality graduate education programs are essential to the success of the province of Manitoba," Barnard's statement reads in part.

"The University of Manitoba is committed to offering these programs and to do so will continue to work with students, government and donors to achieve solutions for better funding opportunities. If we don’t, we are putting graduate programs in this province at risk."

Rempel said a number of students surveyed last weekend said they would not be able to make ends meet if the increase went ahead.

"Many of them said that they would have to seriously consider quitting their program," she said.

Sam Esfandiarpour, a PhD candidate in civil engineering, said talk of the proposed fee increase has distracted him and other students from their studies.

"We can't even research. We can't … study now, because it's a big thing for us," he said.

Allum said students should take comfort in knowing the provincial government supports them.

"Students understand that with this government, we are on side with students, we are on side with affordability," he said. "But we also want to make sure that kids get a quality education, and so it's up to us to find that balance."

Full statement from James Allum's office

Our government is making investments to grow our economy and create good jobs so young people can stay and raise their families here. We are also keeping university and college affordable by investing in education and training so our young people are ready to step into those jobs and have lower debt. That’s why we are not cutting post secondary education funding as we have seen in other provinces.

U of M’s proposal to increase continuing fees by such a large amount so quickly is contrary to our commitment to an accessible and affordable post-secondary system. Student reaction demonstrates that more dialogue and discussion with students needs to happen between students and administration. In the meantime, our government remains committed to a quality, accessible and affordable post secondary education system in Manitoba.

It’s clear that the University of Manitoba hasn’t fully consulted with students and this timeline is not acceptable for this fee increase. The Minister has asked the University to go back and further consult with students and he has advised them to withdraw this proposal to COPSE.