No tinkering with university student union fees, Manitoba's post-secondary minister promises

The Manitoba government says it won't tamper with the fees paid for university student-run programs ranging from clubs to food banks.

Specify in proposed legislation exemptions from its guidelines: critics

Student union fees won't be affected by a new government bill that gives the minister in charge of post-secondary the power to set guidelines for certain tuition fees and student fees. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Manitoba government says it won't tamper with the fees paid for university student-run programs ranging from clubs to food banks.

Student leaders have been troubled by Bill 33, new legislation that permits the government to set guidelines for the tuition fees and student fees charged by universities. The province could also make some student fees optional.

A similar bill in Ontario was struck down by a court after it was ruled the government was interfering with the autonomy of universities. 

Student groups in that province felt the government was threatening the viability of student-led initiatives. 

This week, Manitoba's minister overseeing post-secondary education in Manitoba tried to temper those concerns locally. He said the new legislation would not affect the fees set by student unions, which are approved by students through democratic processes.

Speak out, minister encourages

In a letter to two student groups, Wayne Ewasko, minister of advanced education, skills and immigration, said he appreciated hearing that the bill's wording might be unclear. "We are currently reviewing options for providing additional clarity," he wrote.

He encouraged people to speak up about the bill at a committee hearing.

Ewasko's explanation wasn't sufficient for the Opposition NDP, which held a news conference on Friday. Jamie Moses, the party's critic on post-secondary matters, said they should exempt student union dues in the legislation itself.

"A tweet, a letter — that's not going to cut it," Moses said. "It has to be an amendment." 

He suggests the government should withdraw the bill until they properly consult with students and faculty.

Brenden Gali, chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba, says he wants clarity on the government's proposed legislation to ensure the fees vital to students are not affected. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Brenden Gali, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students in Manitoba, said Ewasko's latest comments are a relief, but "that isn't our only concern." 

"We are here to protect students, not just student unions, and students need access to multiple services on campus," Gali said, referring to other student services such as financial aid or employment opportunities.

The province says  the student fees affected under the proposed guidelines would be course-related expenses, such as additional fees for the lab component of a class.

Political interference alleged

Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, says he doesn't appreciate the province giving itself the power, through new legislation, to set different classes of tuition fees. He says it amounts to political interference.

The province says it is trying to keep student costs manageable by overhauling the Advanced Education Administration Amendment Act.

If the bill passes, the government can penalize universities that disregard the province's recommendations. The province would reduce a university's operating grant by the amount it charges in excess of the guidelines.

The government's guidelines and regulations may limit a fee increase or demand a fee decrease.


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