Putting education front and centre

Photo by Carolyne Kroeker.

Thousands of young, fresh-faced students will pour onto the campuses of universities across the province, including the University of Manitoba, come September. Thousands of mature students, parents, part-time students, and others will be joining them as well, keen to learn and grow in the many fascinating programs that are housed in our post-secondary institutions.

In a recent piece for the CBC, U of M president David Barnard discussed the many intrinsic benefits of post-secondary education where students are “provided with the means to live thoughtful, rewarding lives … [to] know how to think critically and analytically, to see the big picture, to continue learning.”
He’s right. An education can enhance and shape the personal, professional, and collective lives of those that choose and can afford to attend a post-secondary institution.

Education is essential. It develops and grows careers. It moulds critical thinkers who push for social justice and equity for all. It improves our cultural and social health. It can grow our economy sustainably. I know that many who are a part of the University of Manitoba community understand this.

Unfortunately, recent University of Manitoba budgets have not prioritized education. Three successive years of cuts to academic units have had a dramatic impact on students’ education. In May of this year, the university passed a budget with three per cent cuts across all academic units, now totalling almost ten per cent cuts over the past three years.

As a result, new and returning students will not be able to explore the options they deserve and everyone will experience a decreasing quality of education year after year. Students will come up to me in the hallways, bemoaning their 200-person biology class taught by a video screen or the philosophy class they need to graduate with that is only offered every second year.

Cuts have resulted in course cancellations and fewer options for students, delaying graduation for students in faculties from computer science to fine arts. Cuts have changed programs, starving faculties of vital funds for programming and student services. Full-time faculty have been offered voluntary retirement packages and they are not being replaced with tenured staff. Instead, underpaid contract sessional instructors are filling gaps and trying to make do with the limited resources they have.

Budgets always reflect choices. The University of Manitoba can make better choices and invest in the foundation of the university: education. There are solutions. Included in this budget was $68 million in revenue that was transferred from the operating budget to capital. As a result, scheduled salary and operating increases suddenly created a deficit.

Meanwhile, this budget committed over $27 million of new spending to the administration’s ‘strategic priorities.’ At the same time, funding for universities went up by 2.5 per cent in the new provincial budget. Our post-secondary schools should receive strong provincial funding since they are important public institutions. At the same time, public money should be spent appropriately at those institutions on what it is deemed for, the education of citizens

If President Barnard believes that students have “opened up their lives to new possibilities and positioned them for future success” through education, then the university should prioritize academic programs, courses, and full-time staff in its budget. Our education should be the highest priority for the university administration. Students are suffering, and there are many ways that the hemorrhaging can be stopped. It’s about choosing the right priorities in the next budget, while pushing for greater public funding for post-secondary education.

President Barnard was correct in his assertion about the inherent value of post-secondary education. The university administration now needs to live up to their word and reinvest in our education.


Michael Barkman is the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba.