Manitoba tuition bill passes despite opposition

Bill 2, named “Protecting Affordability for University Students,” was discussed in a Human Resources Committee meeting on June 6 and resulted in no changes to the legislation, despite opposition from many university and students groups.

The Canadian Federation of Students — Manitoba (CFS-MB), university faculty, staff, and students shared their concerns with the bill at the committee meeting. CFS-MB presented their recommendations to the Committee to improve the bill and include adequate protection for all students. However, no changes were made.

UMSU released a fact sheet of the bill, outlining their apprehensions of the legislation. The bill is geared towards aiding individuals in rising costs affiliated with being a student. UMSU states, however, that the bill will allow for tuition costs to increase along with the rate of inflation, while failing to provide a cap on the increases. This comes after promises of a tuition cap made by the NDP government in 2011. This could result in significant tuition increases with little warning to students. UMSU also states that the bill fails to include college students or international students in the legislation.

Karim Ammoumou, Chairperson of CFS-MB, states that universities can still raise tuition above the rate of inflation under this bill. If they do this, the province reduces the universities funding equal to the amount that they have raised tuition. Therefore, the university is not affected financially by reduced funding, as the students will be compensating the difference through higher tuition.

Ammoumou explains that this bill also fails to protect professional programs, such as law, medicine, and social work from significant tuition increases.

Bilan Arte, President of UMSU, states that the name of the bill is misleading as it excludes approximately 53 per cent of students from the affordability claim. She suggests that an effective system be created that allows the government to implement tuition fee increases below inflation or, rather, tuition freezes or decreases in general.

Liberal leader of Manitoba, Jon Gerrard, has also spoken out against Bill 2. He describes the bill as covering less than half of the post-secondary students in Manitoba. Gerrard maintains that the bill should not have been passed in this form.

Erin Selby, Minister of Advanced Education and Literacy, asserts that the bill will indeed protect students by tying the tuition fees to the rate of inflation. Selby explains that the bill will create notices of funding for the next three years to universities. This will allow them to plan and budget long term.

UMSU explains, however, that the province has no requirement to fulfill funding commitments made in the budget projections. UMSU argues that the bill should include a legally binding clause for the government and their funding commitments. Arte recommends that the three-year funding projections be provided to the universities every year rather than every three.

Ammoumou states that CFS-MB remains optimistic that regular meetings with Selby will result in a solution to the flaws in Bill 2. He hopes that the government will accept their recommendations to improve the flaws of the bill. As it currently stands, Ammoumou argues, “Bill 2 is like an umbrella with holes in it. Some students are right under those holes.”