On Wednesday, Free Education Montreal and Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations hosted three speakers who discussed the new role of the university in the knowledge economy. The speakers included Martin Robert from the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), Roddy Doucet, Advocacy Manager of Concordia’s Graduate Students Association (GSA), and David Bernans, author and former Concordia assistant professor.
Speakers discussed how Quebec universities’ funding structure has become more reliant on tuition fees and private sponsorship than on government funding. Robert said that “tuition fees are increasing, with the possibility of Quebec tuition fees reaching the national average.” He went on to say that the increase would impact post-secondary accessibility in that it may “prevent 22,000 people in Quebec from going to university.”
In an interview with The Daily, Robert discussed the effects of shifting funding sources.
“The logic of a corporation is different to that of a public service … A corporation’s first goal is to make profit while a public service is to make people healthier and more educated,” he said.
GSA’s Doucet discussed how the new funding structure has impacted the student experience. “[The] physical structures of universities are changing in terms of building new buildings that cost a lot but don’t apply to a great number of people in terms of student body,” he said. “Universities see public space as wasted space in terms of revenues … post-secondary institutions’ general goal is to make sure that all space on campus is used for profit creation.”
Doucet added that the “role of university is to create new labourers to serve the universities’ private partners … Universities encourage graduates to enter the workforce through the heavy amount of debt that people graduate with.”
Bernans, the keynote speaker, addressed how corporatizaton is affecting Concordia. He said that “there is an ongoing battle between those who want to make Concordia work for private [interests] and those who want to make it work for public interests.”
Some university administrators differ sharply from the assessments of Wednesday’s speakers.
In the November 11 issue of The Daily, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum was quoted as saying in French to a Délit reporter, “I’m not afraid of businesses, of corporations … I don’t think there’s a corporatization of universities, not at all.”
“There is room for us to have a much more productive relationship with the private sector,” she added.
The issue of private involvement in post-secondary education has also been discussed at McGill. In a recent lecture, Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, who co-teaches a course in McGill’s International Development department and is president of Universities Allied for Essential Medecines (UAEM), talked about how pharmaceutical companies dictate university research.
Kiddell-Monroe described an incident with UAEM in 2001, in which the NGO Médécins sans frontières (MSF) wanted to gain access to a cheap generic version of the drug d4T for treating HIV/AIDS in Africa. MSF asked Yale University for a patent to produce these cheap drugs. Yale refused because of a $40-million patent license that the university had with the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Meyers Squibb. UAEM stepped in, and later in 2001 Yale agreed to consult with the pharmaceutical company and let the cheaper generics be produced.