Manitoba government hints at higher tuition fees amid belt-tightening

Higher tuition fees are on the horizon for Manitoba students.

Bigger scholarships, bursaries to minimize cost

The PC government hinted at rising tuition fees on Tuesday. (Google Street View)

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government hinted at higher post-secondary tuition fees Tuesday — a move it says could be partially offset by increased bursaries and scholarships.

"Right now, we're the third-lowest in the country (for tuition fees), you know, certainly that is a challenge for many of our post-secondary institutions," Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart said Tuesday.

"We're considered a deal, especially by foreign students. So we have to keep those things in mind, but we also have to make sure post-secondary institutions have sustainable funding arrangements. And that means we have to review where we sit."

The former NDP government froze tuition rates for a decade starting in 1999, and later limited any increases to the rate of inflation. Universities and colleges complained they were being squeezed financially and tried to raise money through a variety of user fees.

More money to scholarships, bursaries

The Tories made no promises on tuition fees in the spring election campaign, but did promise more money for scholarship and grants, including bursaries established by the private sector.

The Opposition New Democrats said Tuesday any sharp increase in tuition rates will make higher education less affordable, and scholarships and bursaries are not always available to low-income students.

Education "is the ladder by which people climb up the socio-economic rungs in our society," NDP education critic Wab Kinew said.

"Education is the transformative intervention you can make in people's lives."

Wishart said he did not have a number in mind as to how much tuition should rise, and is consulting with people in the post-secondary field.

The spectre of higher tuition fees comes as the government tries to whittle away at a $846-million deficit in the fiscal year that ended last March. The former NDP government ran a string of deficits starting in 2009 and the Tories have promised to balance the books by the end of their second term if they are re-elected.

"We have to get back to those fundamental values that Manitobans understand — you can't keep spending more than you bring in every single year," said Premier Brian Pallister. "You're going to jeopardize the future."