University students protest plans to remove tuition cap, tax-rebate cuts

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University students protest plans to remove tuition cap, tax-rebate cuts

Post-secondary students won't sit idly by while the provincial government moves ahead with a budget that will hurt those pursuing higher education in Manitoba, says an organizer of a campus protest in Winnipeg Tuesday.

"Tuition has been increasing. We're seeing this right now," said Dylan Fijal, with the group Revolutionary Student Movement. "We're seeing a lot of austerity measures happening in the province. We're thinking this is firing people up, getting them ready to fight back."

About 50 students staged a walkout and rally at the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday at 1 p.m. to protest high tuition fees and the provincial government's plan to axe tax rebates for students.

Yanisa Wu, another member of the Revolutionary Student Movement, said the student community in Winnipeg needs to get more organized to achieve the goal of abolishing tuition fees.

"The student movement no longer needs to be passive and docile," Wu said. "The current government and the current state does not meet the demands of the working class.

"Any kind of class-based barrier, including tuition, limits access to education, which is a right for everyone."

Tuiton rebate cut

The Pallister government revealed plans to eliminate the tuition-fee income-tax rebate and tuition-fee tax-rebate advance last week when it tabled the 2017-18 budget.

The announcement followed the introduction of Bill 31 last month. The bill replaces a previous rule that capped tuition fee increases at the rate of inflation with new legislation that allows five per cent hikes plus the rate of inflation.

The former NDP government introduced the tuition-fee income-tax rebate in 2007 in an attempt to keep students from leaving Manitoba after graduation. Students could get 60 per cent of their tuition paid back over six years through tax rebates. Post-secondary students who graduated after 2007 and moved to Manitoba were also eligible.

The tuition-fee tax-rebate advance was introduced in 2010 and gave students still enrolled in school a five per cent tax credit advance on tuition fees, a refundable tax credit for students still in school.

The province said cutting both rebates will save about $53 million annually. Premier Brian Pallister has also said there is no evidence the rebates helped reduce student debt.

University as a business

Michael Barkman, chairperson with the Canadian Federation of Students' Manitoba chapter, said he wasn't surprised to learn of the Pallister government's plan to get rid of the rebates.

"I think we've heard from some members of this government, their views on education as a business, as selling a product for students to purchase. I don't view education that way and I don't think most students do either," Barkman said.

"We see it as something that is bettering all of us. We need doctors, teachers, philosophers, fine artists, scientists to go to school, it benefits everyone."

The province announced plans last month to provide $6.75 million to students through a Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative.

Barkman believes scholarships alone won't fix the broader issue of increasing access to education because they will be doled out based on academic merit and create barriers for low-income working class students.

"It's really, really detrimental for our province, our economy to be saddling students with such high levels of debt," he said. "It doesn't make sense to me that we continue to increase the fees and slam the doors of post-secondary education on our most vulnerable, our most marginalized populations."

Meanwhile Dylan Fijal hopes the latest cuts spur a revival in the student movement and bring more people together to fight for free education for all.

"For the last three decades protests against tuition have been very passive. It's been phone calls, emails, very passive rallies and tuition rates have tripled since then," Fijal said. "What we've been doing hasn't been working."