Students are upset but not necessarily shocked that they may be looking at much higher tuition rates in the coming years, says the president of the University of Manitoba's Students' Union.
"There are a lot of upset students. I don't think today's announcement was necessarily a shock given what we had been hearing prior," Tanjit Nagra said. "But definitely this will be very tough especially on … international students and Indigenous students as well and a lot of local students relying on student aid."
On Monday, the Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill to eliminate the current rule that caps tuition increases at the rate of inflation.
The proposed law would allow for tuition hikes of five per cent plus the rate of inflation.
"I would like to say shocked but that wouldn't be true. I'm very sad. I felt very nervous," said Jakob Sanderson, a University of Manitoba political studies student.
Sanderson said he works two jobs to afford university and save up for law school.
"With increases of five per cent plus inflation, that's looking at close to 30 per cent over four years," he said.
"That's immense. That's something that's going to scale back graduation times, it's going to only increase student debt which is between $25,000 and $37,000 nationally and in Manitoba as well," he added.
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Education Minister Ian Wishart said universities and colleges will still be required to maintain average tuition rates lower than those in other western provinces. If it goes above, the institution's provincial grants may be reduced.
"Post-secondary institutions have been saying for some time that we've been cutting down their ability to respond to get better quality teachers and better quality grad students at the university because they didn't have the ability to raise tuition. So certainly we hope that it will deal with that," Wishart told reporters after question period.
He said five per cent is a modest increase and Manitoba will continue to have the lowest tuition in Western Canada.
"I don't believe that enrolment rates will go down at all. In fact, we expect with better quality education available and better professors," he said. "[With] better quality all around, we will be more attractive to other jurisdictions and more attractive to students here."
Wishart has also said bursaries will be increased to help low-income students deal with the fees. The changes are expected to impact tuition in 2018-19, he added.
Step in the right direction, U of M president says
The new legislation is a step in the right direction, University of Manitoba President David Barnard said.
"I think it's a question of what's a reasonable thing for people in Manitoba to pay," he said on CBC's Up To Speed.
"We have no desire to have fees that are unreasonable, but we do want to have fees that are reasonable relative to the rest of the universities that are trying to provide the services that we are trying to provide."
The university's administration intends to make a recommendation to the board to increase tuition fees, he added, saying they would go towards providing more services to students.
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In an emailed statement to CBC, University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee said the university is committed to providing high-quality education that is accessible. The statement said tuition provides one-third of the university's operating budget and the increase would equal about $250 annually for a full-time student taking five courses each semester.
"We remain committed to working in a collaborative manner with our faculty, staff, students and the province to find a balanced and realistic approach as we pursue our strategic directions," Trimbee said.
'It's a slap in the face'
The university price tag already seems steep for students living in poverty, said Kevin Settee, the president of the University of Winnipeg Students' Association.
"It's going to limit the number of Indigenous students that are going to be able to come from communities to study in the city and transform their lives around. Over time, everything is just going to become less affordable," he said.
"It's a slap in the face to students who can't necessarily afford to go to university," he added.
Students not happy with bill to raise tuition pic.twitter.com/WPKjbl7tj5— @stevelambertwpg
Canadian Federation of Students members protested at the legislature on Monday, saying the removal of restrictions on course-related fees means the price of education could rise even more.
"The fact is, Manitoban students are already facing $19,000 of debt," Michael Barkman, chairperson of Canadian Federation of Students — Manitoba, said in a news release.
NDP education critic Wab Kinew said the legislation shows the "Pallister government is out of touch with young people and working families in Manitoba."
"To me an affordable tuition is the best way to ensure that the most students as possible in our province have a chance to make it to post-secondary," he said.
If the NDP were elected, Kinew said the bill would be reversed.
The then-NDP government unfroze tuition in 2009.