2017 Manitoba budget: Tuition tax credit cut slays deficit 'on the backs of students'

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2017 Manitoba budget: Tuition tax credit cut slays deficit 'on the backs of students'

2017 Manitoba budget: Tuition tax credit cut slays deficit 'on the backs of students'

Manitoba students still reeling from changes to the post-secondary tuition cap are now expressing their disappointment that they also won't get a tax credit after they graduate.

In Tuesday's budget, the province announced it plans to cut the Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate and Advance Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate, for $52 million in annual savings.

That follows last month's introduction of Bill 31, which would eliminate the rule that capped tuition increases at the rate of inflation and allow for hikes of five per cent plus the rate of inflation.

"We're in a total deregulation of course-related fees and now this, an elimination of tuition rebate? This is trying to slay the deficit on the backs of students," said Canadian Federation of Students' Manitoba chapter chair Michael Barkman.

"Students are being really hit hard in this budget, and with Bill 31. And I think the government has a lot of explaining to do."

The former NDP government introduced the 60 per cent tuition tax rebate in the 2007, with the goal of encouraging new graduates to stay and work in Manitoba. Students got up to 60 per cent of their tuition paid back to them over six years through tax rebates.

Students who graduated after 2007 and moved to Manitoba also were eligible for a rebate of up to $2,500 a year per person.

The rebate was extended by the then-NDP government in 2010, which allowed students still in post-secondary education to claim a five per cent rebate in advance.

"We can't continue to support programs that have no demonstrable positive effects. There was no data or support for that program's efficacy," Premier Brian Pallister told reporters on Tuesday.  

Last month, the province announced it will provide an additional $6.75 million for students in need via the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative. 

Pallister pointed to that increase in response to questions from the media, saying the province was "redirecting those resources to reduce the barriers at the start."

The new formula will provide up to $20 million for students each year, with the province now matching one-third of funding raised by post-secondary institutions through private donors.

But Barkman noted that while the fund provides bursaries for financial need, it also funds scholarships for academic merit, and so won't go only to lower-income students. 

Cutting the tax credit is "regressive," Barkman said.

"This rebate being eliminated isn't being replaced with any more significant or better measures to create access for education," he said.

"Plus we've already seen a bill that could see massive tuition fee increases in Manitoba. This is a real attack on students in this province. And I think it's going to be something that this government is going to be hearing from students over the next few months."

University of Winnipeg Students' Association president Kevin Settee said he was "extremely disappointed" by the news for post-secondary students. 

He said the rebate was not ideal, but the funding isn't being re-allocated to help students pay for tuition. 

"It's unfortunate they haven't put anything upfront in lieu of the cuts," Settee said. 

Interim NDP leader Flor Marcelino expressed her disappointment, saying that education is a great leveller.

"They have cut the tuition tax credit. That will be a big burden for students who have incurred student loans. We're so disappointed with this budget."

University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor David Barnard said while universities and colleges received a $2-million increase, it won't match inflation.

"There won't be enough in the current year from the increases in tuition so all of the institutions will be faced with making some adjustments," he said.

However, he added that the university is aware of the need for responsible recovery and he is "interested in … what will come in the future in terms of investment in innovation and research."

"I would say that all of us in the province are being asked to participate together in the challenge that is facing the public sector, so we participate with our students in a responsible manner," he said.