Students protest Tory plan to uncap tuition fees
Bill 31 would allow for five per cent tuition hikes annually
Premier Brian Pallister and his government continued to defend a plan to remove the cap on tuition fee increases for Manitoba's post-secondary institutions as university students protested the move outside the legislature Thursday.
The government introduced legislation in March that would allow for tuition hikes of five per cent plus the rate of inflation annually. If enacted, the legislation, known as Bill 31, would go into effect starting in the 2018-2019 school year.
"On our campuses there are already students who are struggling to pay for tuition, for food, for rent — an increase to tuition will slam the door shut for hundreds if not thousands of students who can not afford the cost," said University of Winnipeg Students' Association president Laura Garinger in a speech in front of those gathered for the rally at the legislature.
When the bill was introduced in the spring Education Minister Ian Wishart said the tuition hike — which is supported by post-secondary institutions — is needed to allow schools to hire better professors and offer better quality education.
Manitoba has the lowest tuition rates in Western Canada and Wishart has said universities and colleges will be required to maintain average tuition rates lower than those in other western provinces or risk having their provincial grants cut.
Pallister defends the plan
He said other changes his government is making or has planned — including raising the basic personal tax exemption and their promise to lower the PST — will leave students with more money in their pockets to help cover the costs of post-secondary education.
He also said an increase in funding for the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative announced by the Tories in March shows the government is supporting students.
"It's a program that will, once fully subscribed, quintuple the amount of money available to young people who need that help in scholarships and bursaries," he said.
"Obviously tuition fee increases are not good, because, as it is, it's hard for students to afford education," she said after Thursday's rally. She also said the fact Manitoba has the lowest tuition rates in Western Canada doesn't mean the rates should be raised. "It's a selling point to keep students here, but if students are seeing a rise in tuition fees, what's stopping them from leaving the province?"
Pallister says his government will do an "ongoing analysis" of enrolment data from post-secondary institutions in Manitoba going forward and didn't rule scrapping the hike in the future if it appears to be affecting enrollment numbers.
Tuition rates are currently capped in Manitoba and tied to the annual rate of inflation.
NDP leader Wab Kinew has said Bill 31 would be reversed if his party is elected back into power.