University students say Manitoba is 'backward' in forcing cuts
Universities told to prepare budget-cut scenarios of 10 to 30 per cent because of the pandemic
University students say they want to see more online courses in the spring and summer session, now that thousands of them have not been able to get a job or have lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
Instead of offering more courses, the province has issued a directive for universities to come up with a budget cut scenario today that will cut costs by up to 30 percent over the next four months.
Jakob Sanderson calls the government's move backward. He's the president of UMSU, the University of Manitoba Students' Union, which represents around 30,000 students.
He says instead of the provincial government forcing universities to make cuts, it should be ramping up education for students who are jobless and will be facing a new reality in the post pandemic economy.
"Instead of focusing on how we can lift up people who are affected, they are trying to hurt as many people as they can. It's completely backward and frankly I am quite ashamed that our government has chosen to be this way and stick out as a leader in this country for all the wrong reasons," said Sanderson.
Premier Brian Pallister responded Monday to concerns about university budgeting. The premier said all Crown corporations and provincially-funded agencies were asked to prepare scenarios for budget cuts of 10, 20 and 30 per cent over the next four months — not just universities.
"What we're talking about is an emergency. We're in the middle of a pandemic. We need to find resources," Pallister said. "We need to look for those resources. It's our responsibility to look for those resources. And I expect everyone to be part of helping find those resources."
The premier dismissed the suggestion any cuts to university funding during the pandemic could be permanent.
Students want more classes, support
Sanderson is worried what will be on the chopping block as the U of M looks at all of its options.
"With cuts up to 30 percent the university is going to be a shell of itself," he said.
He said UMSU was hoping for a $300,000 increase in funding this year for counselling services for students, but now he says they will be lucky to hang on to what they have. This at a time when students he says are panicked and feeling more uncertain about their future.
"More people will need counselling and academic support in the middle of a pandemic with mass anxiety. How are they going to meet their academic requirements and maintaining their standing when they are struggling emotionally and mentally?"
Over at the University of Winnipeg, students are circulating an online petition pushing professors for more online spring and summer courses.
"To find out the provincial government is ordering universities to cut back came at a time when students want more courses was a shock," said Mahlet Cuff, vice president of external affairs for the University of Winnipeg Students' Association, which represents more than 9,000 students.
Cuff is in her third year in women and gender studies, with at least one more year to finish her degree.
She says when UWSA gathered feedback from students, about how they were coping during the pandemic and transitioning from on campus courses to online, there was "not a lot of positive reaction."
"It's hard for students with kids, larger families or limited space when they were used to studying out of a library. More distractions at home before exams. They are worried about their mental heath and lack of financial security," said Cuff.
Now she says with the university having to look at reduced funding, this creates more uncertainty for students in a situation that is already so uncertain.
Both Sanderson and Cuff are anxious students could be saddled with hefty tuition increases in the future.
"With COVID and the economy drastically changed, how will they pay for this," asked Cuff.
As for Sanderson, he has completed his degree in political studies and economics, and leaving Manitoba on what he says is a sad note, to study law at the University of British Columbia in the fall.
"The mandate of this government from day one has always been austerity, to cut and make more cuts ... This doesn't make me want to stay in Manitoba. It's sad to hear. Manitoba pride is at an all time low today."