For over three decades, French students at Quebec universities have been exempt from international student fees, paying the same tuition rate as residents of the province. However, in light of ongoing negotiations between the Couillard government and the French state, this special status is about to change.
The current tuition regulations are the result of a bilateral agreement reached in 1978. In recognition of the profound cultural and historical ties between Quebec and France, French students pay an annual tuition fee of only $2,200 – the same as Quebec residents – rather than the tuition paid by most international students, which varies between $12,000 and $30,000 depending on the program.
“I think for the French it’s a bit of a blow, obviously, and it’s going to restrict the [influx] of French students.”
This arrangement has been subject to increasing criticism in recent years, however, as the number of those benefitting from it has risen dramatically. During the Fall 2014 semester, roughly 8,000 French students attended Quebec institutions, representing an increase of 90 per cent since 2006, while around 1,000 Quebec students attended French universities.
This past autumn, Premier Philippe Couillard began negotiations with French president François Hollande to reform the 1978 agreement. Although the details remain under discussion, La Presse reported that a mutually agreed-upon solution has emerged: French students will be subject to the same tuition fees as Canadians from out of province.
They will retain a unique status as citizens of France, but this tuition hike of roughly $4,400 is meant to help to ease the province’s financial burden.
Brice Letcher, a third-year Biology student at McGill from Rhône-Alpes, France, commented on the financial drawback for French students. “I think for the French it’s a bit of a blow, obviously, and it’s going to restrict the [influx] of French students.”
However, Letcher ultimately expressed approval of the proposed reform. “All the arguments in favour of the raise, I think, are more than fair,” Letcher told The Daily. “Philippe Couillard made a promise to Hollande and held it, namely, French students will keep on paying a preferential fee. It’s still a little bit above half the price anyone from anywhere else than Canada is having to pay. So the entente franco-québécoise is still very much alive.”
According to Vice-Principal (Communications and External Relations) Olivier Marcil, this reform will be a positive development for the University, and is expected to increase revenue.
“We think this is a reasonable point of view for the Couillard government to take,” he explained in an email to the Daily. “We think it’s fair for a student from Paris, France, to pay the same as a Canadian student from Paris, Ontario.”
Addressing the unique status of French students at McGill and in Quebec as a whole, Marcil said, “It’s important because of the historic relationship between Quebec and France, and to help strengthen the French language, which is a minority language in North America. We agree that French students should have a special status compared with other international students, and even after the new fee is set, students from France will still enjoy an advantage.”
In response to concerns that the tuition hike will negatively impact French enrollment, Marcil remained relatively optimistic.
“We believe there won’t be a dramatic [effect] in either direction,” he said, noting that until negotiations end and the reform is finalized, it will be impossible to know for certain.
When it does take effect however, the new policy probably won’t apply to those currently enrolled. “The common view among Quebec universities, including McGill, is that current students should be grandfathered, so they would not pay the new fee once it is established.”