Post-Secondary Education: For Elites Only?

Of course we knew that the Pallister government would be going after public education. Last week it held hearings on its Bill 31.  As this CBC blog explains, “Bill 31, introduced in March and debated this week at the Manitoba Legislature, will permit university tuition fees to increase up to five per cent, plus the rate of inflation, on an annual basis. This means that tuition could potentially double in the next 10 to 12 years.”

According to authors Hajer and Saltis, “In an era of high inequality and emboldened intolerance, saving money by reducing access to education for our most vulnerable citizens has the potential to compromise Manitoba’s long-term social and economic interests.”

In other words, fewer Manitobans will have access to post-secondary education.

Once again this government has shown how tone deaf it is to the values Manitobans hold. The blog ends with a poignant quote from Barack Obama:

“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century.”


KPMG’s Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review

For those of us who value a Manitoba built on a foundation of compassion and social and economic fairness, the recently released Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review is deeply troubling.  If implemented by the Pallister government, the $740,000 KPMG Report will have far reaching, and in some cases irreversible implications for Manitoba.  The report’s recommendations include job cuts, selling-off social housing, reducing access to services for disabled adults, including those with intellectual disabilities, cuts to post-secondary education tuitions hikes, elimination of interest free student loans, and references to a host of yet to be determined “cost savings”.

Manitoban’s should be very concerned with what is sure to be the Pallister Government’s playbook going forward.  There is a lot to unpack as we sift through the multi volume report. Here are a few highlights that give us an indication of what we are up against.

The Review describes 6 areas of opportunity: Reduction of Select Tax Credits, Rationalization from Reorganization, Procurement Modernization, Real Estate Rationalization, Reducing Direct Support to Businesses, School and Post-Secondary Funding (initial phase focused on post-secondary funding).  The Report identifies 6 “transformational areas” with opportunity for “cost improvement” including:  School and Post-Secondary Funding, Families: Organizational and Process Transformation, Asset Management Planning and Rationalization, Justice System Reform, Capital Project Management and Delivery, and Review of Agencies, Boards and Commissions.

After laying out a vague series of cost cutting recommendations that lay the groundwork for privatization,  the report provides a “Summary of Advice for Consideration” that includes “Key Communication Points.” This advice makes clear the serious limitations of a review that focuses solely on finances with no regard for the public good. KPMG describes being tasked with conducting “a Fiscal Performance Review to identify potential areas of opportunity for efficiency and cost improvement in all departments with the exception of Health to “gain better control over the growth in core government spending, with better value for money and allocation of fiscal resources without adversely impacting front line services. It notes $7.3 billion of “in-scope” spending for the review.  The report describes a collaborative process including KPMG, Treasury Board Secretariat and central agencies, with input from departments.

It is notable that KPMG points to a short timeframe for its  assessment, leading to the immediate focus on identifying significant short-term cost improvement opportunities, as well as other material long term opportunities which should be considered going forward. This is a big red flag.  It tells us that KPMG is proposing significant short-term cost savings with no regard for long term impact.

In the report, KPMG describes a Fiscal Performance Review Framework intended to provide a consistent, systemic framework (principles, guidelines, criteria) for looking at spending and evaluating initiatives and programs across departments and branches. It speaks to the need for a results-based approach with a better focus on results and value for taxpayer dollars, yet it makes cost-cutting recommendations without indicating how results have or will be assessed.

The Report boasts of finding several areas of “opportunity” exceeding $50 million in potential cost “improvement” opportunities in 2017/18. It goes on to note a “second-wave”  of cuts in over $50 million.  KPMG, the governments appointed Steering Committee and Manitoba’s Treasury Board have targeted six key areas for immediate action.

Other than a brief mention of “social value” and a few buzzwords like “citizen centric”, “highest value to taxpayers” and a promise for “better care, better education, and a clean, green environment”, the aim of the Review is clearly aligned with Premier Pallister’s mission to dismantle and privatize Manitoba’s public services.

The Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review is narrowly and unabashedly focused on cuts at any cost.  There is no assessment of the long term social and economic impact of the transformational shifts in policy that it recklessly prescribes.

We’ll learn more as we delve deeper into the KPMG report, but this we know for certain. The Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review has little to do with improving Manitoba for Manitobans, and everything to do with Premier Pallister’s ideological mission.

Stay tuned for further posts as we continue to examine Manitoba’s Fiscal Performance Review


Students Say “NO” to the Pallister Government’s Tuition Hikes

Over the past two years, I have had the great pleasure of working with and representing students in Manitoba. While serving as the provincial chairperson of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, I’ve heard many concerns, experiences, and anxieties from students.

My role, primarily, involves listening.

Listening to students at the University of Manitoba dealing with the impact of three years of sustained budget cuts. Listening to international students across the province concerned with rapidly rising differential fees. Listening to Indigenous students whose communities fear they will be forced to send fewer students to post-secondary due to rising fees.

Time and time again, I hear the same message: rising tuition fees will only create larger, more insurmountable barriers to accessing Manitoba’s post-secondary education system.

The only piece of legislation that provides some sort of tuition predictability and protection is now being drastically altered. On Monday, the government announced that the cap would now be increased to allow tuition increases of five per cent above the rate of inflation.

Hiking tuition fees would be a step backwards for Manitoba.

When students gathered on the steps of the legislature on Nov. 2, demanding our federal and provincial governments take decisive and meaningful action on the elimination of tuition fees, provincial finance minister Cameron Friesen said we were “fear-mongering.” Not wanting to add to our fears of spiked tuition, Friesen said that “we [the government] understand that affordability matters to students and Manitobans.”

If students truly had nothing to fear and the province understood that affordability mattered to students and their families, it would immediately protect and expand current legislation on post secondary tuition to include all students, including international, professional, and college students, all of whose tuition remains unpredictable and unregulated. It is unjust that these students’ education remains so volatile because of sporadic fee increases.

Small increases to scholarships and bursaries are not enough, especially in light of tuition hikes. Manitoba needs a comprehensive, holistic plan to open the doors of post-secondary education to anyone who wants to attend, beginning with ensuring the provincial tuition cap is applied to all students.

Post-secondary education has immense benefits for our economy, culture, and society at large. An educated society is healthier, reducing costs for the health care system and increasing societal well-being. Education reduces poverty and decreases dependence on social assistance. Education leads to lower levels of crime and increased participation in arts and culture. It will only serve to improve our province to make accessible education a priority.

For me, it has been both inspiring and downright depressing to hear the stories of the high cost of post-secondary education for Manitoba students. I would recommend the government listen to the diversity of students studying in the province, and hear the stories of what hiking the fees will mean for the future for students and for Manitoba.

Fortunately, Manitoba students are listening – to each other.

We are organizing, ready to say no to tuition hikes and yes to a positive vision for education in this province. Every Thursday, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in the U of M Arts Student Lounge, students are meeting and planning for action. Anyone is welcome to join. Together, students can defeat fee hikes and education cuts and build a province that values education for all.

Michael Barkman is the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba.