Commentary | Give us back our low FRSL tuition!

McGill should reinstate in-province tuition for French as a second language courses for deregulated faculties

A s an international student, I have been greatly concerned by the deregulation of international undergraduate tuition for engineering, law, and management. For example, management tuition for 30 credits (i.e. full-time) went from $18,000 to $27,000 in just two years. Just when I thought things could not get worse, I had the misfortune of experiencing yet another nouvelle politique pour les étudiants étrangers (new policy for international students).

Starting this past summer, international students in faculties with deregulated tuition are no longer eligible for the subsidy that in the past terms had allowed them to take certain French courses at the in-province tuition rate. For me, it all started last April when I received an extremely unpleasant surprise in the form a $4,000 charge for a French summer course on my Minerva account. On contacting Student Accounts, I learned that the French course subsidy for students paying deregulated fees is no longer provided by the Ministère de l’Éducation, des Loisirs et du Sport (MELS) and therefore, these students are required to pay the full rate.

From what I have learned and been told by Student Accounts, this change had been agreed upon by a “fee-advisory committee,” a committee with no student representation. In addition, no adequate notice was given to the students affected – those registered in the French courses. Only when I had begun knocking the Student Accounts Office’s doors did I learn of these changes. On the day of my last correspondence in April with the Office, the page about exemptions from international fees on McGill’s website still did not reflect the change in policy.

The provincial government announced the deregulation of international tuition in fall 2008, but the University only began charging the deregulated tuition rate in fall 2009. This meant that international students registered in programs with deregulated fees and taking French courses in fall 2009 and winter 2010 were still paying the Quebec tuition rate for these courses, even when there was no subsidy available from MELS. It is really disappointing to see the administration revoking that policy and charging international students thousands of dollars, without holding any student consultation on the matter. Furthermore, quite a few concerned people within the administration – like the International Students Services Manager, Pauline L’Écuyer, and the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), Morton Mendelson – were unaware of this change until May. The few thousand dollars collected are drops when compared to the ocean-sized financial deficit of McGill. In fact, it only discourages international students from learning French and thereby, limits their integration into the Quebec society.

Je ne peux insister assez sur l’importance du français dans notre société. For foreign students with limited resources and especially those coming from third-world countries (where the currency exchange rate with the Canadian dollar is unfavourable), there is no incentive to register for a course that pushes the tuition bill $4,000 beyond their financial capacity. Some might argue that there are off-campus venues to learn French, but this is not always possible, given one’s course schedule constraints. Additionally, there are visa restrictions that prevent international students from studying outside their “home institution.”

Given recent incidents and policy-changes, like the closure of Archicture Café, the introduction of self-funded tuition model for the MBA program, and proposed hiking of Quebec tuition rates starting in 2012, this change in policy on French course tuition, though sudden and unpleasant, is not surprising at all. At the end of the day, it is really sad to see the exploitation of international students’ need and desire to educate themselves and integrate into society – all for short-term monetary benefits.

Salman Hafeez is a U3 Mechanical Engineering student. Write him at