University of Manitoba approves new budget, including 3.75% average tuition hike

The University of Manitoba is increasing tuition by an average of 3.75 per cent for the upcoming school year, a revenue they say will help support the university's costs in light of uncertain enrolment numbers and losses due to COVID-19.  

Tuition increase expected to offset some costs of cuts, university officials say

Students will pay more to return to remote classes at the University of Manitoba this fall. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

The University of Manitoba is increasing tuition by an average of 3.75 per cent for the upcoming school year, revenue they say will help support the university's costs in light of uncertain enrolment numbers and losses due to COVID-19. 

The increase will vary across faculties and is expected to bring an expected $2.7 million in revenue to the university for the 2020-21 academic year.

"This is very unfortunate timing for students right now…who we've seen already come forward having trouble navigating this new reality that is remote learning and who have been already demanding that tuition is lowered," said Jelynn Dela Cruz, president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union.

The group represents more than 26,000 students at the university.

She said she wants students to understand that the root causes of the tuition increase is provincial post-secondary cuts and uncertainty due to an expected decline in enrolment as classes resume remotely. 

Last week, the province reduced the university's operating grant by five per cent, or $17.3 million, due to the pandemic.

"I think that there needs to be a lot of pressure put on the provincial government to increase support at the institutional level and restore operating grants to these institutions," she said.

The university's board of governors voted shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday to approve the new budget, which included the average tuition increase of 3.75 per cent for the coming academic year for graduate and undergraduate students.

"Of course we recognize that any changes in tuition, in fees, impacts students and we're aware of the many challenges and stresses, in particular this year, that students are also facing with the impact of COVID-19 and with our move to remote learning," said Janice Ristock, the university's provost and vice president-academic. 

The U of M conducted an in-depth analysis of tuition for different programs in Western Canada, said Todd Mondor, the university's deputy provost for academic planning and programs. Under provincial legislation, the province must maintain the lowest average tuition in Western Canada, he added. 

"We found that in pretty much all cases, tuition is much lower at the University of Manitoba than it is at the other three western provinces, and in some cases, shockingly lower," he said.

Higher fees for some 

As a result, he said some fees for the upcoming year will be higher for students in faculties with larger discrepancies from the next lowest western provincial average.

For arts, education and medicine students, for example, tuition is between 30 and 45 percent lower than the next lowest under the provincial average, so those faculties will face a seven per cent fee increase, he said.

"Across all of our programs, the average increase is 3.75 per cent, which is the instruction we were provided by the provincial government and so that's what's led us to choose the percentage increases that we have before you," he added.

The Master of Business Administration and Master of Finance programs are exempt from any rate increases, a phenomena pointed out and questioned by one board member at Tuesday's meeting. 

Those programs are already costly, new and competitive, and increases to tuition would negatively impact recruitment, replied Mondor, adding that the dean of those programs was the only one to ask that fees be left "as is."

The overall increase is just over half of what's allowed under provincial legislation and is on par with the increase in the 2019-20 budget. 

The provincial law, updated in 2017 to scrap a tuition fee cap, allows for a five per cent increase, plus the current Consumer Price Index, which the school reported "conservatively" at two per cent.

He said the tuition hike would work out to about $250 for full-time arts and sciences students, whose fees increased seven and five per cent respectively, and $640 for students enrolled in medicine, whose fees were increased by seven per cent. The anticipated $2.7 million in revenue is not set in stone. 

"It's not a huge amount, and I just want to caution this amount reflects our current enrolment projections, which may not be accurate because we're all kind of playing a guessing game of what we might expect in terms of enrolment in the fall, and that in general we're expecting decreases in our revenues because of the impact of COVID 19," said Ristock. 

She said the university will continue to provide bursaries and emergency aid to students in need.

Dela Cruz said rate increases only add to the worries of students, who are already dealing with the trauma and trouble of completing their studies in a global pandemic. She said it's incumbent on the students to speak up if they don't like it.

"Because administrators and those at the university level are very tied to the provincial government because that's where they get the funding," she said. 

'Go a really long way for the students'

The school's overall operating budget, developed "in a context of change and uncertainty," according to the meeting document, is just over $674.6 million.

The consolidated budget shows revenues of $904.6 million, expenses of $922.9 million and endowment revenues of $14.7 million. 

The document projected an overall operating grant of $345.7 million, accounting for 51 per cent of the university's revenues in 2020-21.

That will be reduced by five per cent ($17.3 million) to $328.4 million, as the University of Manitoba joins other colleges and universities in the province facing government funding cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U of M is contemplating a variety of measures to deal with the cut, including layoffs, voluntary work week reductions, hiring deferrals and reduced discretionary spending, President David Barnard previously said.

Funding for counselling, sexual violence centre

The university responded to four recommendations made by UMSU in its budget, setting aside $350,000 for the sexual violence resource centre, $300,000 for the student counselling centre, investments in respectful workplace policies and health insurance for international students.

It also earmarked $900,000 for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and $600,000 for student assistance.

"The university's budget may be just as fluid as the times that we're going through right now, but contributions of this magnitude, commitments of this magnitude go a really long way for students," said Dela Cruz.


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