By Zach Fleisher
As the old adage goes, budgets are not only a financial blueprint for a government’s plan but also demonstrate their choices and values.
Manitoba’s universities have been under attack by the Manitoba Government. Since the 2017 budget, funding below the rate of inflation has resulted in a substantial revenue shortfall. After years of freezes, this year’s budget saw an across-the-board increase of 11.7 percent in funding for postsecondary education. While this is a substantial increase, it still leaves the sector with $48 million less than it would have had the government increased funding at the rate of inflation since 2017.
This year’s budget also saw an unequal distribution of this funding, with the University of Winnipeg receiving a 20.2 percent increase, 10.8 percent for the University of Manitoba, and 10 percent for the Université de St. Boniface. Brandon University received only 3.5 percent increase in the provincial grant.
As the only university outside Winnipeg, Brandon University can and must play a crucial role in post-secondary education. An accessible university that provides educational opportunities for Manitobans is crucial in ensuring the vitality of rural Manitoba. With such an unfair share of funding, Brandon University will struggle to keep up with the recent inflationary pressures. This leaves faculty, students, staff, and the wider Brandon community in jeopardy.
With a small budget compared to Winnipeg and Manitoba, an increase to the operating grant at Brandon University would be comparatively affordable for a government that has now found funding for a wide variety of other sectors. In its 2022 budget, Brandon University received just under $41 million in funding from the provincial government; an increase of 3.5 percent provides an additional $1.4 million to the institution. In contrast, a 10.8 percent increase to the grant at the University of Manitoba provides that institution with an additional $37.8 million in funding – a figure that equates to 90 percent of Brandon’s 2022 grant in its entirety. A funding increase in line with other institutions would allow Brandon University to recruit and retain professors and staff across all of its faculties, ensuring stability for years to come.
Simply put, bringing the funding increase for Brandon University to 10.4 percent (the middle ground between the Universities of Manitoba and St. Boniface) would provide BU with an additional $4.2 million. That’s only an additional $2.8 million increase from the current budget grant provided or 0.01 percent of the total provincial budget.
Budgets are about choices, and by not increasing the grant at Brandon University, the Manitoba government has made its choices clear.
Choices to invest in every university- if that University is in the City of Winnipeg.
Choices to tell young people in Westman that their institution closer to home doesn’t deserve funding increases as those in Winnipeg and will be forced to move to Winnipeg for the programs they need.
Choices to say that we value education, but not in rural Manitoba.
Choices to say that while the federal government increases equalization payments to Manitoba by over a billion dollars or 16.8 percent, those living in rural Manitoba shouldn’t share in that investment.
It is curious why the Manitoba Government has increased funding for higher education in an election year after years of funding cuts and rising tuition fees.
It appears those pursuing post-secondary education living outside of Winnipeg are being treated unfairly. Will they choose to prioritize Brandon University?
That’s the $2.8 million dollar question.
Zach Fleisher is the coordinator for the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA).