The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) says students will be facing a 3.75-per cent average tuition increase across all programs for the 2021/2022 school year.
In a news release Tuesday night, the union expressed frustration with several years’ worth of operating grant reductions which it says led to the hike.
“This mistreatment of post-secondary education extends far into the past, before COVID-19,” UMSU president Jelynn Dela Cruz says in the release.
“As the province recognizes our value as the next generation of skilled workers through the recent Skills, Talent, and Knowledge strategy, students refuse to take the consecutive cuts to post-secondary education as our new normal.”
UMSU says the University of Manitoba’s (U of M) board of governors approved a $660-million operating budget for this fiscal year, which includes approximately $14.9 million more in tuition revenue compared to last year.
“What often goes without notice is that (students’) education is also a direct investment into the economic well-being of the province, despite bearing the associated financial burden,” Dela Cruz says.
However, the union says students can also expect some more supports and better online learning in exchange for the increase.
The budget includes an additional $1.2 million to improve online teaching and learning, including an “experiential learning centre,” and more career counsellors, UMSU says.
The tuition bump is variable, and will have different impacts on different programs, according to Janice Ristock, provost and vice-president academic at the U of M.
The increases range from one per cent up to five per cent in some cases, Ristock says, amounting to about $65 to $575 annually, depending on the program and courses.
“Even with this increase, we still remain amongst the lowest in terms of our tuition compared to Canadian institutions that are research-intensive, or compared to Western University,” Ristock says.
“Our increase will still make sure and ensure that we’re an accessible institution and that has been important to us.”
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Ristock points out that while tuition is going up, the budget also includes a number of “strategic allocations,” including more than $1-million in bursaries for students, and another million-dollar investment in teaching and learning programs.
“In addition, I would say we’ve heard from students about the need for accessibility coordinators and for continued support around mental health and that continues to be a priority in our budget going foward,” Ristock says.
The budget also boosts library spending by roughly $850,000, however, UMSU says it’s unclear if any of that will be spent on Open Education Resources it had advocated for in its budget submission.
“It is disappointing to see that no money has been explicitly earmarked for creating additional capacity within the libraries to champion the use of open educational resources, particularly free digital textbooks,” says Kristin Smith, UMSU VP Advocacy, in the release.
“This represents a potentially huge source of student savings, especially during an expansion of online learning.”
UMSU says a survey of its members indicated “adoption of free digital textbooks” was students’ top-ranked priority for increased spending, ahead of a dozen other options, such as increased mental health supports and work-learn placements.
Ristock says “some funds” will be directed to the open educational resources.
The union concludes by saying its representatives on the Board of Governors will be voting against the proposed tuition and course fees, and in favour of strategic allocations listed in the budget — such as support for student accessibility, Indigenous scholars, and enhanced teaching and learning.
“Overall, the University should be commended for listening to students’ recommendations and following up on that with more money for student assistance programs, especially amid a pandemic when finances are stretched more than ever,” Smith says.
A Board of Governors agenda dated March 23, 2021, notes $5.7 million slashed from this year brings the total reduction over the last three years to $10 million.
Further complicating future funding, the agenda mentions legislation that requires the average provincial tuition to not exceed the lowest average tuition west of Manitoba.
Ristock says only time will tell whether or not the university’s back will one day be against the wall — if the operating grant continues to fall and it closes in on its legislated tuition cap.
“We’re not sure what the plans are for our operating grant going forward from the province,” Ristock says.
“There are also some proposals to change that current legislation and we have to wait and see what that’s going to look like.”