Question Period

Peter Bjornson, Minister of Education and Advanced Learning, drops by U of W

On Jan. 22, the Honourable Peter Bjornson, Minister of Education and Advanced Learning, addressed students and curious members of the public about the state of post-secondary education in Manitoba. 

The address was part of a series in which the Minister spoke with students across the province to better assess their concerns regarding education. 

“It’s not about the message I’m bringing to the students; it’s about what the students have to say to me,” Bjornson said in his opening remarks. “Sometimes the solutions aren’t immediately apparent to all of us who work in government. We are here to listen. We are here to learn.”

Bjornson went on to detail recent improvements to the Manitoba post-secondary education system, including the announcement of interest-free student loans last November and a 121 per cent increase in funding at the University of Winnipeg from 1999. 

The Minister made mention of plans to further improve the system, such as the development of a credit transfer portal that would allow students to easily move between programs, doubling the amount of online courses available, and having diverse representation within the Advanced Education Advisory Committee. 

“We want to make sure [students] can spend more time focusing on their studies and can put themselves on the pathway to a good future here in Manitoba,” Bjornson stated. 

He opened the floor to the audience for a question and answer period and students inquired about topics from the government’s position on balancing frontline services and infrastructure investment, to the preservation of disciplines that are especially vulnerable to the looming threat of budget cuts, to plans on alleviating ever-rising textbook costs. 

Bjornson admitted he couldn’t make any promises considering the budget realities but assured students that their concerns would be brought to the advisory committee.

“We can never spend too much on education,” he said, “but I’m also in the situation where I [can] only spend so much right now.” 

Chukwudi Okonwo, a second year political science student from Nigeria, inquired about the troubling fees for international students to study in Manitoba. International students’ tuition is triple that of a Canadian student. 

“At the end of the day, you can see how it affects us. School fees aren’t the only challenges,” he said.

Bjornson asked Okonwo to speak with him and his assistant afterwards to understand the specifics of his situation. 

“There’s no quick fix,” Bjornson admitted, “but we will look at things we can do that are sustainable to support you.” 

The session was not meant to give immediate satisfaction to students, but rather, was an attempt on the government’s behalf to understand the needs of its people. 

Third year education student Samantha Ward said the forum was a good place to begin a conversation on post-secondary education concerns. 

“I feel like there are a lot of [our concerns] that are going to be discussed. You have to start somewhere,” she said.  

Events like this, Okonwo stated, give students hope that the government is working for its people. 

“I like the engagement of the politicians with the citizens. I believe so much in direct democracy.”

You can bring your concerns to Bjornson by emailing him at minedu@leg.gov.mb.ca

Published in Volume 69, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 4, 2015)

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