Commentary | HMB’s university is not student-friendly

In her letter introducing McGill’s budget for the fiscal year 2010-2011, principal Heather Munroe-Blum sets out her goals for the University’s spending. Topping the list – before research, before McGill’s reputation, and before student welfare – is slashing the University’s deficit. There’s nothing wrong about moving toward eliminating debt, but this reduction should not come at the expense of student life on campus. Other goals – protection of jobs, attracting substantial new investments, and increasing tuition and enrollment – are also emphasized, while statements about “boosting the quality” of McGill’s services to students are not backed up by any specific initiatives.

Quebec’s recent budget report announced the unfreezing of tuition in 2012. The fact that Munroe-Blum describes the impending fee hikes as “optimistic” is indicative of the administration’s lack of concern for student welfare. She’s stated that she wants to bring McGill’s fees in line with those of other provinces – meaning a nearly 100 per cent increase for in-province students in 2012. The base tuition for in-province students at the moment is $2,068 – the Canadian average is approximately $5,500.

The administration argues that increased undergraduate enrollment will improve student life. But getting students into university is a far cry from giving them a good education and promoting their welfare. More likely, students will be faced with larger classes, more competition, and higher student-teacher ratios. Standards for keeping entrance scholarships are unrealistically high, and the requirements for achieving work-study positions exclude many students who need them.

The administration posits that increasing tuition and financial aid will maintain accessibility and quality for all students. They insist that they will direct 30 per cent of net new tuition revenues toward financial aid. This works out to roughly $2.9 million, or 1.5 per cent of total tuition revenue, which comprises 27 per cent of McGill’s operating fund. However, only 25 per cent of financial aid from the operating fund is going to undergraduates.

It seems doubtful that the planned tuition increases will affect student services, given the way the University’s finances are structured: the overwhelming majority of student services funding comes from students’ ancillary fees, not from tuition. Recent moves by the administration have demonstrated their lack of concern for students and have served only to monopolize student space and alienate the student body – like the unilateral ban of bikes on campus or the closure of the Architecture Café with no consultation, for example. Additionally, aiming to increase enrollment is irresponsible when faculties are already facing staffing problems and high student-teacher ratios. The burden of extra students will likely fall on TAs, who are already familiar with struggles against excess work and low pay.

Even though Munroe-Blum calls for tuition hikes on “undergrads, not on grads,” and much additional funding will go to graduate research, grad students shouldn’t be without worries. The administration boasts about the amount of money it receives from the private sector. But this money’s not going where it’s needed, but instead to specific profit-making areas. Munroe-Blum’s plan for McGill’s future – which includes prioritization of that corporate-funded research, particularly in the Faculties of Medicine and Law, and a reduced numbers of TAships – would mean that resources available to grads in areas such as TA training and research opportunities may actually become much more limited.

As representatives of every undergraduate student at McGill, and as students themselves, it is the SSMU executives’ responsibility to come out against the tuition hikes as soon – and as forcefully – as possible. But the student body also needs to take action: it is the prerogative of every individual to write letters, hold protests, and pass motions through the General Assembly (GA) and SSMU Council in order to make themselves heard.

For more info on GAs:
For more info on SSMU Council, email Council’s speakers, Raymond Xing & Cathal Rooney-Cespedes, at
To write SSMU executives:
Zach Newburgh (
Joshua Abaki (
Tom Fabian (
Myriam Zaidi (
Anushay Khan (
Nick Drew (