Manitoba reverses planned post-secondary funding cut, but says institutions must meet workforce needs

By | May 27, 2020

The Manitoba government is changing course and giving post-secondary institutions the money it was planning to cut from their budgets in the next school year.  

Premier Brian Pallister confirmed on Wednesday the province is scrapping a planned one per cut in the operating grant to post-secondary institutions. 

He said Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler would have more to say later, after further discussions with officials at Manitoba’s universities and colleges. 

“He has shared a decision that we’ve made to revert away from the planned budgetary one per cent reduction to ensure that, at the very least, stable funding based on the previous year’s allocation is going to be there for post-secondary in … this fiscal year,” Pallister said at a morning media briefing.

The decision is a sudden reversal from the Progressive Conservative government, which in recent weeks has looked to cut costs as it deals with the expensive response to the COVID-19 crisis.

At one point, universities and colleges were asked to draw up scenarios for reducing labour costs by as much as 30 per cent. 

Now, the government says it will help them adapt to the new economic realities stemming from the pandemic with a one-time “transitional fund” worth $25.6 million.

“It is essential that Manitoba has a strong and responsive post-secondary system so institutions are positioned to respond effectively to the new economic and social realities,” Eichler said Wednesday in a prepared statement. 

The $25.6 million total combines both a reversal of the grant cut announced in the 2020 budget, as well as pandemic-related savings on campuses resulting from lower staffing and operations costs, he said.

The University of Manitoba warned of layoffs earlier this month when it was told its provincial operating grant would be reduced by five per cent this year. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

“This fund will support a new way forward to achieve success in a new and unknown labour market landscape,” Eichler said.

In order to access the funding, the province expects each institution to create a plan for how it will use the funding to align programming with labour market demands, enhance online learning and handle uncertain enrolment numbers, specifically the expected decline in international students.

The plans must be submitted to government by Sept. 15. 

In a letter sent to post-secondary schools on Monday, the province says colleges and universities will play a critical role in Manitoba’s economic recovery. The memo explains that graduates will require new skills and some people who lost work will enrol to update their resumes. 

Focus more on workforce needs: province

“Going forward, there will need to be more attention paid to supply and demand in our workforce,” says the letter, written by Economic Development and Training deputy minister Jan Forster.

“Students receiving general degrees, with the important power skills employers tell us are needed in the workplace, such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication, must be connected to work during their studies to facilitate a quicker connection to employers upon completion.” 

University of Winnipeg spokesperson Kevin Rosen said in a statement the university appreciates that the province is recognizing the value of higher eduction in aiding the restoring of the economy. 

The U of W is scheduled to receive $2.3 million, which is equivalent to its planned cut in grant funding. Rosen said the U of W is still anticipating a further revenue shortfall of around $4 million due to COVID-19. 

The University of Manitoba said it wasn’t prepared to speak on the announcement as it was still evaluating the province’s decision.

Other institutions did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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