On Monday, March 28, Erin Selby became the new minister for advanced education and literacy.
“I’m excited and I’m honoured” Selby said of her new appointment.
Selby is an MLA for the Southdale constituency and is taking over the minister’s position from Diane McGifford.
University of Manitoba president David Barnard explained that the minister was one of the university’s “principle points of contact with the provincial government.”
“Over the longer term we’ll want to talk about the broad agenda of university engagement in the community, and the university’s mission is to build bigger futures for our students and their families and the community they live in,” said Barnard.
Barnard noted that the university saw significant changes while McGifford was minister, including the funding of new developments, programs and buildings.
Funding for universities is an important issue for Selby, who said she wanted to balance academic excellence and affordability.
“Keeping our schools affordable is absolutely one of the most important things to me,” said Selby.
She said she felt that past instability has come from the Conservatives freezing or cutting funds to universities. She said this happened in the nineties for five years, which later caused tuition to increase 132 per cent.
“It doesn’t look good of course for students or for the administration. I would be interested in seeing that we can balance excellence in our academics but also affordability for students,” said Selby.
Barnard commented that tuition and funding were “key issues” and added that a major source of the university’s revenue comes from the government grant.
“Those revenue sources are critically important to the university’s ability to fulfil its mission in the community,” said Barnard.
Barnard added that the U of M will want to talk to Selby about “the full range” of what the university is involved in, such as cultural, social and economic growth and development in the province and in the community.
David Shorr, communications officer for the Manitoba Liberal Caucus, said he hoped that Selby works to allow both the U of M and U of W to become leaders in post-secondary education. He also said there should be an emphasis on safety, “especially in residence.”
“That’s something that needs to be addressed, as well as [ . . . ] insuring that if there is going to be any raise in the tuition rates at least that its done in step with inflation,” he said.
“She’s a smart talented woman and I have no criticism about her appointment. I just hope she understands those are the needs of the university students of Manitoba.”
Selby also wants to look into graduation rates. She believes that having more credits being recognizable and transferrable across different programs could help the graduation rate and help students move through school more quickly.
Mavis Taillieu, the Conservative critic of advanced education, claimed that the Conservatives had also been working on credit transfers. “They must have found out that that was something we were working on,” Taillieu said.
Taillieu also claimed Selby’s appointment was “absolutely political” and that it was an “attempt to raise her profile in the Southdale constituency.”
“It has been a Tory stronghold; [ . . . ] I think it’s a desperate attempt to hang on to that seat,” said Taillieu.
In regards to political criticism, Selby implied that her focus is elsewhere. She stated that her priorities are health, safety, affordability and education and that these were the priorities of Manitoba families as well.
Selby emphasized that she is looking forward to meeting people and hearing “tons of great ideas.” She also hopes to be quite involved with the University of Manitoba students and administration.