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you have to pay upfront, but at the end of the day, most Manitobans could actually pay a net tuition of $0.

Good news abounds for today’s university students!

Well… sort of.

See you have to pay upfront, but at the end of the day, most Manitobans could actually pay a net tuition of $0.  How do I arrive at this figure one might reasonably (or not so reasonably if you are a member of a student union that likes to picket and hold up intimidating-looking signs) ask?

Let’s start off with the 60% tuition rebate that takes place over the first six years you work if you stay in Manitoba.

If the average Canadian undergraduate student paid about $5,800 in tuition fees last year, that means that over the course of a three year degree, they will be out of pocket $17,400 (*remember this number*).  By my calculations, the tuition rebate alone will slice $10,400 off of that.  Not a bad deal.


That’s before we take a look at the yearly non-refundable tax credits (which can always be passed up to parents if they don’t make enough cash to use them).  If you are a full-time student (usually 18 credit hours or more per semester) you can claim the basic education amount on both your federal and provincial taxes: $400 per month you’re in school.  For most students that comes out to a tax credit on $3,200 a year.  In MB, you get 10.8% of your non-refundable tax credits back and at the federal level you get 15% back.  That translates into $345 and $480 per year respectively.  Our three year total for the basic education amount comes to $2,475.

The MB-specific part of the game is finished now, but the federal crew in Ottawa isn’t done throwing money at us yet.  We also get non-refundable tax credits for our tuition and textbook amounts.  On a tuition of $5,800 we’d get $870 back every year.  The textbook tax credit comes in at $80 annually for most full-time, eight-month students.  Over three years this cash back from the government comes to $2,850.

Plus, if you want to get really creative there are the moving costs, public transit costs, and/or childcare costs tax credits as well, but I won’t include those because if you claim those chances are you had to spend quite a lot of money on each of those expenses (much more than you got back on your taxes) and they aren’t exclusive to students.

When we add up the basic education amount, tuition & textbook tax credits, and the income tax rebate, we’re at a three year figure of $15,275.  So technically we’re still a little short.


Here’s the thing though, we forget to count the money the government gave to us before we got to school!  If you, your parents, grandparents, or the tooth fairy managed to put in enough RESP money in order to reach the lifetime limit on the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) – aka “free money the government gives you for preparing ahead of time” then you can tack on another $7,200.  Granted, someone would have had to put away $2,000-$2,500 a year from the time you were a tyke for you to qualify for that amount, but once you’re in school you can pull that cash out and use it for anything (rent, investment purposes, etc) so it’s a great idea if you can afford it.  Assuming someone invested $7,200 of CESG money in basic bonds or even some low-risk stocks, you could easily have $9k or so of the government’s money waiting for you when you leave for school.

Related: The Canada Learning Bond and How to Get It


That brings our government money total up to roughly $24,275.

Now all of this is not to say that going to school in Manitoba has no expenses.  Living costs would obviously be the primary factor.  What I am saying though, is that if you are willing and able to live at home with your parents, and look for savings on things like public transportation, used textbooks, making your own coffee & lunch, and other such daily tips (plus many more found in today’s best high school grad gift – More Money for Beer and Textbooks) it is possible to get through school without taking on debt.  Personally, I didn’t have the option to live at home while going to school, but when you add up these numbers it makes a pretty good case for students that are able to pursue it.

Article comments

Potato says:

What are the ancillary fees like in MB? At UofT & UWO they ran to over $1k, making $5-6k “tuition” a $6-7k out-of-pocket bill.

Kyle says:

True, you raise a good point John. We’re pretty close to $1K on most course loads too I think! Most schools have done this to get around the “tuition freeze” MB put in place for several years.

That’s a great analysis showing how you can take advantage of all these various programs and tax breaks to come up with a combined total that rivals the cost of tuition. I never did that kind of number crunching on it. I’m sure the numbers would be similar in New Brunswick. Our tax credit isn’t quite as good as yours, but it’s pretty close.

Kyle says:

The problem is that you don’t get this money upfront but rather on the back end, so many students still feel a lot of panic when they look at their balance on graduation day. As long as students find work when they graduated – admittedly a huge IF – they should be ok though…