News | Munroe-Blum presents plans for tuition hikes

Principal clashes with National Assembly over University operations

QUEBEC – McGill administrators faced a barrage of questions from members of a parliamentary commission in Quebec City Tuesday. University officials presented Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) with a barrel of apples from MacDonald campus along with their case for raising student tuition.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum led the four-person McGill contingent that appeared before the National Assembly’s 12-member Commission de la culture et de l’education, which hosts Quebec university officials every three years.

Parti Québécois MNA Marie Malavoy mounted the most intense line of questioning, challenging some of the basic premises of Munroe-Blum’s argument for increased tuition. “I think it’s hard to say that if students paid more for education they would succeed as well,” Malavoy said in French.

In her opening remarks, Malavoy said that there was a “breach” in the administration’s logic on tuition, and that she felt “anxiety” at the direction McGill was taking with regard to tuition. She worried, she said, “that you [McGill] are moving toward a North American model, not a Québécois model, where the richest schools can attract the best students…and where the poorest remain in the periphery.”

Munroe-Blum immediately deflected the criticism, saying “we don’t want a North American model, not at all.”

Throughout the nearly three hours of hearings, the principal repeatedly outlined specific plans to increase tuition for certain McGill students. Undergraduates are likely to be among those targeted by tuition hikes, Munroe-Blum made clear.

“The evidence from other regions is that if you’re going to raise tuition, do it on undergrads, not on grads,” she said, calling higher tuition for graduate students “counterproductive and certainly not competitive.”

Munroe-Blum also countered Malavoy’s concerns, saying that she favours an incremental tuition model. The principal scorned Quebec’s current tuition model, saying a system in which tuition is the same for all students regardless of family income “makes no sense.”

“Poor families are supporting families of greater means,” she said.

SSMU VP External Myriam Zaidi later questioned Munroe-Blum’s plans, saying that middle-class students will find themselves stuck in limbo, “too rich to benefit from financial aid, but too poor to pay the tuition.”

Student politicians across Quebec have spoken against Munroe-Blum’s views on tuition.

François Carbonneau, a board member of the Table de concentration etudiant du Québec (TaCEQ), of which SSMU is a founding member, said he did not know how high tuition might rise if it was deregulated by the government when the long-standing tuition freeze ends in 2012. In the University’s submission to the Commission, Munroe-Blum supports Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s plan to deregulate tuition in 2012.

In an interview with the Daily, Carbonneau, a Laval student and one of a handful of student politicians to attend the Commission, said in French “I really fear for the wallets of Quebec students…. If there are no rules, we might end up like the American universities, which I don’t think is what we want to see.”

Michal Rozworski, VP External of the McGill graduate student-employee union AGSEM, who also attended the Commission, said that he opposed tuition hikes, even if to support graduate students.

“We see this as part of just a general issue of access…. We’re not going to let ourselves be divided off and conquered,” he continued. “We see solidarity as an important value across campus.”

MBA tuition jeapordizes NGOs
Professional schools like the law and medical schools are the “groups” that McGill intends to focus on most in the next five years, according to the University’s submission to the Commission, which previews the administration’s upcoming five-year strategic plan, to be released in the winter of 2011.

This explicit shift in priorities was not mentioned by either the administration or members of the Commission on Tuesday, but one professional program, the Management faculty’s Masters of Business (MBA), was discussed at length.

Speaking to the Daily immediately following the hearings, Munroe-Blum defended the deregulation of MBA tuition that began this semester, which saw in-province tuition skyrocket from $1,700 to $32,500.

“An MBA is not a God given right,” Munroe-Blum said. She argued before the Commission that average students were paying for a large portion of what is often a very lucrative degree, repeating administration talking points from last year.

“We are completely paying for this program…on the backs of our undergraduate students,” Munroe-Blum told the Commission. “It just wasn’t fair…it wasn’t equitable.”

Munroe-Blum also pointed out to the Commission that the average MBA program graduate makes just over $100,000 a year in their first three years in the workforce.

Zaidi denies that this is reason to increase tuition for the program. “First, I think the University should always fight to have more funding from the government to pay for these programs,” she said in an interview before the Commission hearings. Zaidi also cited concern about the increase’s effect on the non-profit sector.

“People coming out of the MBA with $60,000 in debt who want to work for an NGO are pretty much forced to go into those high-paying jobs,” she said.

Speaking with the Daily after the hearing, Provost Anthony Masi, who sat next to Munroe-Blum in the committee room, said the Management faculty was considering a program of retroactive student aid, which would give financial support to MBA graduates who do not enter the for-profit sector. No such program is yet in place. Thirty per cent of the increase in MBA tuition revenue is being put towards traditional student aid this year.

Quebec, McGill not pulling weight
Administration representative Pierre Moreau, Executive Director of Planning and Institutional Analysis at McGill, told the Commission at length in French that McGill is grievously underfunded by the provincial government.

Moreau tied the administration’s desire to raise tuition to the slide in government funding. “It used to be that the lack of tuition revenue was made up by a higher government subsidy per student: that’s no longer the case.”

Moreau went on to criticize the government for a lack of commitment to graduate research, a top administration priority. He noted that from 2003 to 2008, the government of Quebec reduced its investment in research by 32 per cent, while McGill has increased its investment in research by 22 per cent between 2005 and 2008.

Zaidi pointed to questions of priorities, rather than just provincial help. “Yes, they should get more funding, but the question is what will they do with this funding,” she said. “I don’t think the priority would be student life, but rather [graduate] research, which doesn’t affect undergrads.”

Michel Pigeon, a Liberal MNA and member of the Commission, had similar concerns about McGill’s funding priorities Tuesday. “If the University was better financed, what would be your first priority, the most clear and urgent?” Pigeon asked in French.

Alternating between French and English, Munroe-Blum answered that the administration’s funding priorities were centered on more support for graduate students and help in settling non-Quebec students in the province.

Munroe-Blum told the Com-mission that increases in tuition would primarily affect undergraduates, and that such increases were needed to support graduate research.

Graduate research funded at expense of graduate students
McGill’s Commission submission shows their plan to invest in the construction of two new graduate research centres in coming years.

A research centre for neuroscience, pain, and immunology is intended to open in the Lyman Duff building at a cost of $26.8 million, of which McGill has agreed to pay $10.5 million.

Further, under the heading “Maintaining Academic Priorities,” the submission reveals plans for a biomedical research centre, to develop pharmaceutical and medical technologies, which will cost $120 million.

McGill has $650 million in outstanding deferred maintenance, but Masi wrote in an email that new construction still takes priority because it’s cheaper.

“The costs of new construction [are] most often less than attempting to retrofit older structures,” he said.

Despite this support of graduate research, Rozworski complains that the University does not provide basic support services for graduate students. “There are fewer and fewer teacher assistantships, so students are not getting the support they need to become educators,” he said shortly after the Commission hearings. “Graduate students themselves, members [of AGSEM] are coming to us and complaining that they are not getting trained…. We find that many departments do not have TA orientation sessions.”

“There is more graduate funding but it’s going into very specific [areas],” he continued. “There is more funding going into profit making areas.”

In 2008 McGill received $30.3 million in research funding from industries, an increase of nearly 73 per cent since 2003.