Students side-lined again during government pandemic response

April 20, 2020

WINNIPEG (Treaty 1 Territory) – The Manitoba government has asked all universities in the province to prepare for potential budget reductions of up to 30%. These cuts would be disastrous for our post-secondary institutions who are already struggling due to three consecutive years of reduced public funding from the province. Universities and colleges will undeniably play a central role in the rebuilding of our economy as we emerge from this crisis. It is economically short-sighted and socially deplorable to dismantle education institutions during this time. 

“Students are extremely anxious right now when it comes to their education,” said Brenden Gali, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba. “With the federal government leaving students out of CERB and the provincial government making further cuts to post-secondary education, students are being left behind in this crisis. The Pallister government is making it clear it doesn’t care about students’ interests. We stand in solidarity with workers and our educators in maintaining the essential service of education.” 

“Short-term economic relief is important, but it should not be a motivator of a fiscal policy that seeks the easy way out,” said Qudus Abusaleh, Deputy Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba. “These cuts should not come at the expense of students who are already experiencing high levels of anxiety brought on by transitioning to online courses, having their graduation plans sidelined, and being in the dark over summer employment and government assistance.”

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in a context where students and recent graduates were already in an extremely precarious financial state. Since coming into power, Brian Pallister’s government has allowed tuition fees to increase every year, clawed back international students’ access to public healthcare, eliminated the tuition tax rebate, terminated 210 ACCESS bursaries and cut public funding to post-secondary institutions for three consecutive years. Manitoba universities were under attack prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; these proposed cuts only accelerate the creeping privatization attempts already in motion.

In this time of mass unemployment and economic uncertainty, our society must turn to education to build a path forward. Our provincial government should be signalling a strong desire to invest in future workforce development to support our community as we come out of this pandemic. Now, more than ever, we must defend our post-secondary institutions from opportunistic austerity governments and ensure that students’ right to access public education remains a strategic priority for Manitoba’s economic recovery.