The Manitoba NDP have pledged to cap tuition increases at the rate of inflation and expand student aid eligibility if reelected this fall.
Greg Selinger made the announcement during a visit to the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus Wednesday.
Under the NDP’s proposal, student’s personal income and vehicles would not affect their eligibility for a student loan. The NDP also pledged to reduce the interest rate on Manitoba student loans to the prime-borrowing rate.
“This is a package that’s aimed at affordability, to allow people to go to school and afford the tuition, and to allow families to know that their loved ones can go to university and have a good chance of being able to afford it,” Selinger announced.
When asked if the NDP had any plans to bring back the tuition freeze lifted in 2009, Selinger said the NDP felt keeping tuition increases at the rate of inflation was “a reasonable approach.”
“There had been a lot of reaction to keeping it frozen for too long,” he explained.
In response to criticism that the tuition freeze of the 2000s had left universities underfunded, and keeping tuition at the rate of inflation may leave universities without the funding necessary to remain competitive, Selinger touted the NDP’s commitment to increase university funding by five per cent each year for three years.
“The five per cent allotted for universities is very secure funding over a three year time horizon. We’re going to legislate that and continue to fund universities on a rolling basis,” he said.
Selinger went on to argue that the tuition freeze had not been the root cause of university funding issues, and pointed to the cuts to post-secondary education made by the Conservative government during the 1990s. He also pointed out the expansion in new infrastructure, such as the new Pembina Hall residence at the U of M, as visible example of the NDP’s commitment to university funding.
Erin Selby, NDP minister of advanced education and literacy, said that she was happy to see her party moving in this direction and hoped the expansion of student aid eligibility would make it easier for students with families to enrol in post-secondary education as well.
“Realistically, there are some students who need to work, there are some students who choose to work, and we want to encourage them to do that,” she said.
“[ . . . ] It’s just a little more flexible depending on what point in life they’re at.”
Mavis Taillieu, advanced education and literacy critic for the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, said that the NDP’s pledge “sounds like they’re copying our announcement because we had announced that we support tuition increases at the rate of inflation to protect our education system.”
Taillieu stressed the Tories agree students should have access to quality post-secondary education, “which means supporting the students and institutions in the best way that we can.”
“However, we also recognize that we will not be able to have a full knowledge of the financial situation of the province until we are elected,” she said.
“We have to be careful not to make bold statements that we could not follow through on.”
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union feels the announcement is a good start, but still have questions surrounding the details of the legislation, explained Julie Rempel, UMSU vice-president (external).
“What measure of inflation do they use? What happens if the economy contracts and there is deflation? What happens if we have a year of very high inflation? Does it apply to ancillary fees and can we ensure there are no loopholes for the universities to sneak increases through?” Rempel asked.
In regards to the tuition freeze, Rempel explained that while UMSU would have been happy to see it reinstated, “we need to be realistic.”
“Tuition fees and government policy regarding fees is a constant struggle, and it isn’t something that we either ‘win’ or ‘lose.’ Our job as a students’ union is to mobilize our membership to make post-secondary education as affordable as we possibly can,” she said.