W hen Quebec’s minister of education Michelle Courchesne announced last month that a major tuition hike for university students in Quebec was in the works, many hung their heads in disappointment.
This is par for the course for the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ), responsible for a 300 per cent increase in university tuition since 1987. More tuition, less government funding, more tax cuts: that’s been the PLQ agenda. But the fact is that tuition increases over the past 23 years have not improved university funding. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Universities throughout Quebec are suffering the worst underfunding crisis in their history. What’s the source of this underfunding? Well, tax cuts have been a sexy way for governments to undermine their revenue sources, translating into a reduced ability to fund the education of our future workforce. And the fact is, the public looooves tax cuts because they feel good in the moment and their ramifications are not immediately obvious.
Our very own principal, heading the provincial principal’s conference – the Conférénce des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec – has defended tuition hikes for about as long as can be remembered. With a certain degree of success, too: tuition fees now go up by $50 per semester, every semester. Additionally, the McGill MBA program, if it is allowed, will charge students just under $30,000 a year starting next year. Now University of Laval’s principal is mulling over a so-called “self-funded tuition model” for its professional programs. The logic of tuition increases and privatization is contagious.
Since 2000, tuition (for Quebeckers and other Canadians) has been increasing by $50 a semester. But has $50 been enough to solve the university underfunding crisis? Of course not! The PLQ cynically announced a small sum in order to curtail opposition, because $50 doesn’t seem that bad. It could be worse, you might say. It is now obvious that the government betrayed our confidence: in 2007, the PLQ responded to opposition by implying that tuition increases would end by 2012, but with Courchesne’s announcement, it’s become clear that $50 a semester was just a warm-up for things to come.
The reality is that much more than $50 a semester per student is needed to address the underfunding crisis. Approximately 52 per cent of McGill funding comes from the provincial treasury; tuition makes up under 20 per cent. The logic that harvesting more from the shallow pockets of students will somehow save our universities is just plain false. Money raised through tuition increases over the past two decades has been inversely proportional to the reduction in government funding for postsecondary education. In other words, the more you pay, the more the government cuts.
Face it: students are being asked to finance tax cuts, albeit through elaborate manipulation. If that’s fine with you, don’t mind me and the entire student movement in Quebec opposing it with all our strength.
Join us in demanding a real solution to the postsecondary education underfunding crisis: a massive public investment in our infrastructures and professors.
Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan is SSMU VP (External). The views expressed here are his own. Write him at email@example.com.