Tuition hike justified

R aise the God-damn MBA tuition at McGill. Few words are tossed around more and mean less than “a right to education” and “accessible tuition” in the context of the Desautels Faculty of Management tuition hike. The recent increase in MBA tuition for Quebec students – from $1,673 per year to $29,500 – is not a human rights violation, and probably makes a lot of sense.

There has been a lot of protest against the tuition increase in the name of “accessibility.” The implicit idea behind this is the notion that raised tuition fees violate some sort of “right to education” for these business-savvy graduate students. Now, it’s one thing to advocate for universal access to basic literacy skills, elementary school, secondary school, and even the more specialized CEGEP. But how on earth can one justify a “right” to receive an MBA under the same name? An MBA is a privilege that a person pursues in order to gain a competitive and financial advantage over the rest of society. Precise figures vary, but there is no doubt that MBA recipients earn significantly increased salaries upon graduation. And most people entering MBA programs have already completed an undergraduate degree and had successful workplace experiences. Forgive me if I’m unsympathetic to their cause, but to suggest that everyone is entitled to this privilege is brutishly naive.

Of course, champions for the purported “accessibility” of education are perfectly satisfied with the status quo, which makes the degree differentially attainable depending on one’s province or country of origin. Without the tuition adjustment, there is very little to be said for the more morally salient variable here: equality of access to MBA programs from people of varying regions. Quebec tuition may have been kept low, but international students have already been paying $19,890 per year to attend. Creating a single but higher tuition fee ensures that while it may be very costly to attain an MBA, it is at least equally costly for all parties involved.

And even if there were some sort of “right” to obtain an MBA, higher tuition wouldn’t violate that right. While higher tuition will inconvenience some people, those who genuinely could not afford to attend at all benefit from increased investment in scholarship programs. Approximately $4,000 per student, or 30 per cent of the increased tuition, will go directly toward student aid.

Here’s the relevant right: universities and the programs they fund have a right and responsibility to keep themselves competitive and financially stable. All MBA students at McGill benefit when instead of losing roughly $10,000 per student per year, they can actually remain competitive in the international community. Let’s face it: good professors often go where they will get paid the most. With new funds from tuition, Desautels plans to develop a new curriculum that includes over 30 new professors, renovated facilities, and significantly improved career services. Many of the most competitive schools in Canada have been self-funding very successfully. Queen’s and the Richard Ivey School of Business retain their stellar international reputation in part due to their whopping $56,000 annual tuition.

In addition to improved quality of education, raising tuition for the MBA program at McGill is good for all McGill students and Quebec residents. The self-funded model will allow Desautels to stop siphoning funds from other McGill students and the government of Quebec. This means other programs, which are often for students doomed to earn far less than MBA recipients, can become much more accessible.

If you support equality of access to education, you should support a raise in tuition fees for Quebec students enrolling in MBA programs. If you think a more competitive and self-sufficient program is important, you should support a raise in tuition fees for MBA programs. And if you support a right to education, you’re entirely misguided to think it applies here.

Riva Gold writes in this space every week. Tell her how much you love paying more for school: