Manitoban students are feeling the pinch as tax rebate cuts leave graduating students empty pocketed

BY Hannah Owczar

Graduating Red River College student Zachary Thompson, 23, can’t claim the Manitoba Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate as it will be phased out in next year’s tax season./ HANNAH OWCZAR


The Manitoba Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate and Advance provided students, who were completing or had completed a post-secondary degree, diploma or certificate, a tax refund of up to 60 per cent on paid tuition fees. The rebate, established in 2007, was implemented to incentivize students to stay in Manitoba after graduation.


However, last year’s provincial budget announced the rebate would be phased out by the 2018 tax season.


Zachary Thompson, who is graduating from Red River College with a Business Administration diploma this summer, said he’s disappointed with the government’s decision to phase out the tax rebate.


“It’s unfair because you’ve gone to school and worked hard for it,” he said. “It’s a way the government has made cuts to save coin.”


Thompson, who is considering applying for jobs in both Manitoba and British Columbia, said the tax cut may deter Manitobans from staying in the province after graduation.


“There is not very much protection after graduation,” he said. “I think for sure people will leave the province because of the tax cut.”


However, information supplied by the Department of Finance for the Manitoba government stated there’s been no evidence that the tuition tax rebate is keeping post-secondary graduates in the province.


A Department of Finance spokesman said students raised concerns that even if they did receive tuition fee tax rebates, there was still significant barriers in accessing post-secondary education up front. He said more immediate solutions were needed to benefit students.


With the estimated $53 million the government is savings by cancelling the tax rebate, the spokesman said the government has improved the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative.


This program, which provides grants to students in need of financial aid, received an additional $20 million in scholarships and bursaries this year.


However, Dele Ojewole, interim chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students said there’s still not enough being done to ensure everyone has access to post-secondary education.


“Right now, I think the government has shown negligence in making education affordable,” he said. “The tuition tax rebate made education accessible to a lot of students who might not have had a way to fund education.”


Ojewole said the tax rebate cut is a loss for students.


“It’s very, very sad,” said Ojewole. “It [the cut] shows that the government lacks the motivation to retain students in the province. The tax rebate was an incentive for students to stay in Manitoba and to contribute to Manitoba’s economy.”


This year’s provincial budget also marked the end of a tuition hike freeze, a regulation imposed by the previous NDP government which ensured tuition fees would not increase.


“If there is no reinvestment into education, it affects all students in accessing education,” said Ojewole.


Ojewole believes the current government needs to do more to invest in students in the province.