Commentary | Quebec tuition and inflation

An economic analysis of historical tuition

When adjusted for inflation, McGill tuition  declined every year from 1994 until 2010. That $1,700 fee actually buys fewer lecture, maintenance, and service hours every year. Annual inflation – or the overall percentage increase in prices over the course of a year – averaged 1.8 per cent per year over the past sixteen years. Whatever goods and services McGill could purchase with $1,700 in 1994 would cost $2,357 in 2011. Assuming 1994 tuition covered the cost of educating Quebec students, minus government subsidies, McGill has incurred a deficit per student of over $600. A Quebec student who graduates with a three-year degree in 2012 will have cost McGill $1,156 in excess of tuition, in today’s dollars during his or her tenure. To cover this debt, McGill has several options: spend less, borrow more, or increase fees.

Even after two years of $100 increases, tuition actually remains lower in real value terms than in eleven of the past sixteen years. The $2,550 cash (or in economic terms, nominal fee) paid in 2013 for yearly tuition will buy only as much as $1,750 did in 1994.

What McGill student wants the quality of his or her education to decline? During my time here, I have seen fewer and larger class sections and increasingly limited access to conferences. Several of my Economics and Political Science professors have been forced to forgo TA led conferences due to funding cuts. The world-class education we were promised seems ever more elusive with the endless tightening of McGill’s purse strings. As the economy grows, prices almost invariably go up. For this very reason, most union wage contracts are tied to inflation in order to hold constant the actual purchasing power of income. Why shouldn’t tuition rise with inflation as well? Whether you believe post-secondary education is every person’s right or a voluntary investment, it has associated costs and benefits to the student and to the university. McGill is a world-class institution because its students and professors are among the best and brightest in Canada and the rest of the world. However, the goods and services that support McGill have substantial costs that must be covered somehow. We must accept these nominal increases as necessary to help bring McGill back to earlier levels of quality.

If you do not trust McGill to spend our tuition dollars prudently, there are more productive ways to resolve your grievances than protesting the increases. Fight instead for accountability in governance. Look into the McGill Governance Reform Project, which is working to provide student oversight in university decisions. Or lobby your député to index tuition to inflation, thus, fixing the school’s real purchasing power.

Carter Smith is a U2 Economics student. He can be reached at

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