Hiking tuition, slashing jobs: Manitoba's universities differ in their budget cut approach

Hiking tuition, slashing jobs: Manitoba's universities differ in their budget cut approach

While four of Manitoba’s universities are hiking tuition by the maximum 6.6 per cent allowed by law, Canadian Mennonite University is taking a marginal approach by comparison.

Manitoba’s post-secondary schools are struggling to figure out how to deal with a 0.9 per cent cut in provincial funding in the latest provincial budget.

CMU, though — a small Winnipeg university with 900 students — is boasting a “very modest” tuition increase of one per cent for its undergraduate and graduate programs in the 2018-19 academic year — lower than any other university in Manitoba, and less than the current rate of inflation for Manitoba, says a CMU media release.

Canadian Mennonite University president Cheryl Pauls said the explanation goes beyond fiscal prudence. Her institution has not faced a tuition freeze or seen its rate tied to inflation over the past 17 years like its counterparts.

“Had we been controlled on the level and been at the rates where the other universities were, we probably would have gone up by the same amount.”

She estimates tuition at CMU has doubled in the last decade.

Unique arrangement

“Where the others were sitting around $4,000 [for yearly tuition], we were more around $7,000.”

Pauls said the Christian post-secondary institution, which receives a third of its operating funding from the province, pockets significantly fewer government dollars than Manitoba’s public universities and is thus affected less by a 0.9 per cent decrease in funding or the funding freeze in 2017-18.

“We’re the only post-secondary with this formula,” she said.

The rest of Manitoba’s universities, however, have slashed positions, left jobs unfilled and hiked tuition well above the rate of inflation to cope with rising operating costs.

The University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, Brandon University and Université de Saint-Boniface have approved 6.6 per cent increases in tuition — the maximum permissible after the provincial government scrapped the cap on tuition increases last year.

Post-secondary institutions are now allowed to increase tuition fees by five per cent plus the rate of inflation.

The faculty and students unions at Université de Saint-Boniface are holding a rally on Thursday to protest budget cuts. (CBC)

Faculty, staff and students at Université de Saint-Boniface are holding a noon-hour rally Thursday to protest changes in the school’s budget, passed last month.

They’re condemning a 6.6 per cent boost in tuition, what they describe as the cutting of courses, and the loss of two teaching positions in the faculty of science — which they say will affect a science co-op and a mathematics and microbiology/biochemistry program.

“We’re afraid that what’s going to happen is with less program offerings, with less course options, the message that’s being sent to students is you can’t really get a quality education here in French,” said David Alper, vice-president of the university’s faculty union.

“We’re afraid that students are going to study in English in other universities.”

University president Gabor Csepregi believes it’s inaccurate to say the school is cancelling programs.

He said the science co-op is set to be run in collaboration with the University of Manitoba, while the mathematics and microbiology/biochemistry program would still operate in-house.

“It’s excessive to say that French education in general is suffering because of that, because we’re not renewing two term positions,” Csepregi said. “I think it’s an outright exaggeration.”

No cuts at U of M

Students at the province’s two largest universities will also pay hundreds of dollars more for their classes this fall.

At the University of Manitoba, the 6.6 per cent increase in tuition and course rates will draw $9.5 million more in revenue.

It should be enough to offset the cut in the provincial grant and cover salary and operating costs, spokesperson John Danakas said. 

“Still, this level makes it increasingly difficult to remain competitive and to address such things as deferred maintenance,” he wrote in an email.

Hiking tuition alone is not enough at the University of Winnipeg to outweigh the reduction in provincial funding.

Five faculty positions will be left empty and eight support staff positions eliminated.

The University of Winnipeg says the maximum tuition hike is not enough to offset a decreased contribution from the provincial government. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

That follows austerity measures the U of W has implemented in recent years, like eliminating 40 per cent of the university’s senior administrative staff since 2015 and squashing a few athletic programs.

“We have been doing more with less for a number of years,” said a recent media release.

To counterbalance the decrease in provincial funding, Brandon University increased tuition by 6.6 per cent and cut nine senior administrative jobs, while Assiniboine Community College is asking students for an additional $250 per program. 

Red River College is seeking a “modest tuition increase” but declined to share the total until the province approves the college’s budget.

University College of the North, based in The Pas and Thompson, did not have numbers to share by deadline. 

The provincial government says it is committed to ensuring affordable education. An additional $2.7 million was earmarked to the Manitoba Bursary fund earlier this year to help students who need it. 

“Manitoba students pay the lowest tuition in Western Canada and enjoy the third-lowest rate of tuition in all of Canada and we will work to ensure it remains that way,” the province said at the time.

Published at Wed, 06 Jun 2018 20:30:22 -0400