Provincial bursary program seeking $13M in donations raises less than $2M in 6 months
Tories promised two-thirds of $20M bursary program would come from private sector on campaign trail
Six months into a one-year fundraising program aiming to bring in more than $13 million for bursaries to Manitoba universities and colleges, the Progressive Conservative government has raised less than $2 million from private donors.
Manitoba Education and Training has raised just over $1.8 million in private money for the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative, according to information obtained by the NDP through a freedom-of-information request and provided to CBC News.
Premier Brian Pallister promised to increase provincial funding to $20 million from $9 million on the campaign trail, with two-thirds of the funds to come from the private sector. The province still has until the end of the fiscal year in 2018 to make that promise.
"What we're seeing now is an increased reliance on the private sector, without any assurances that that money will come in," said NDP MLA Matt Wiebe. "What we're seeing is they're falling short."
Education Minister Ian Wishart said it's not fair to look at the numbers halfway through fundraising when Wiebe raised the issue during Wednesday's question period.
"You're looking at numbers that come out in the middle of the fiscal year. That's really not appropriate economy as to how money is managed," Education Minister Ian Wishart told the House.
In a written statement emailed to CBC News by a spokesperson later Wednesday, Wishart called the discussion "fear-mongering" by the NDP.
Another freedom-of-information request from the NDP showed the government spent thousands to advertise the bursary program, including a plan to take $20,000 from the operating fund of Manitoba Student Aid to pay for a social media campaign.
Wiebe called the efforts "a desperate attempt to cover up a tuition hike that nobody voted for."
A provincial spokesperson said in an email the money from Student Aid came from the operating fund, "not the envelope of funding specifically dedicated for student grants."
"We want to make sure students in Manitoba are aware that provincial funding is available for them, and how they can access it," he wrote.
Student federation rep not convinced government will meet target
The government has said increases to bursaries will help students deal with potential increases to tuition — increases related to the government introducing a bill to eliminate a law capping tuition increases at the rate of inflation, and the phasing-out of the a tax rebate for graduates who stay in Manitoba.
Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, national representative of the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students with the Canadian Federation of Students, said she doesn't have faith the government will be able to raise the money to make that happen.
"They're already six months in and they have not made a dent in terms of their commitment," she said.
Lavoie also said money from scholarships and bursaries can't replace lower tuition. Money in those funds doesn't reach enough low-income students, she said, since money from the program is administered through university endowment funds, many of which are merit-based.
"Ultimately, the responsibility to fund education is [with the] government. We've been pushing for the Manitoba government, even federal government, to fund and invest in students and education and they're offloading that responsibility to the private sector," she said.
A government spokesperson said the initiative will include bursaries for students based on financial needs, not just merit.