My education is basically free?

University not so costly for Manitoba students, report finds

Melody Morrissette

You may not know it looking at your university bill, but a new report suggests Manitobans pay effectively nothing to go to university in the province.

According to a report by the Educational Policy Institute, an international post-secondary education think-tank, when inflation and tax rebates are considered in the cost of tuition, the price of getting an undergraduate degree in Manitoba has actually fallen by 100 per cent since the 1997/98 school year.

“When combined with student income tax rebates most (students) will pay nothing,” said Diane McGifford, Manitoba’s minister of advanced education and literacy.

Yet according to David Jacks, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), these calculations do little for students who cannot afford a year’s tuition.

“The tax credits fail to affect accessibility because they’re after-the-fact,” said Jacks.

“I’d like to see more funding up front.”

It’s really the initiative of the government to provide the opportunities for the students.

David Jacks, Canadian Federation of Students

Pointing to the $13 billion debt accumulated by Canadian students, Jacks said students are still collecting interest on these loans and carrying them long past graduation, despite the rebates.

The most significant provincial rebate was announced in 2007. Manitoba students receive 60 per cent of their tuition back if they remain in the province for a minimum of six years after graduating.

“It’s a retention strategy,” said McGifford.

Through this policy the government hopes to keep students in the province and utilize their skills in the local economy.

Jacks believes the government should give students a better reason to stay.

“It’s really the initiative of the government to provide the opportunities for the students,” he said.

According to the report, average tuition and ancillary fees for a full-time Manitoba student were almost $3,900. The annual average tax rebates per year were just over $1,900. The 60 per cent post-graduation rebate covers the remaining fees.

Early last year provincial government announced that the tuition freeze, started in 1999, would be removed for the 2009/10 school year.

A commission is currently looking at how to transition out of the freeze.

The CFS is fighting to have the freeze reinstated so that university is accessible even for students who cannot pay the initial cost.

McGifford believes students do have a responsibility to pay more than they currently are for their education.

“Education has great benefits for the public, but it has even greater benefits for the individual,” she said.

Published in Volume 63, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2009)

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