Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand announced the 2011-12 provincial budget last Thursday, calling for tuition fee increases of $325 per student every year for five years starting in September 2012.
“This is the death of the university as we know it in Quebec,” said Joël Pedneault, vice-secretary general of the Quebec Student Roundtable and next year’s SSMU VP External.
The total increase will amount to an additional $1,625, raising Quebec tuition to $3,793 when the hikes end in 2017.
“Tuition fees will be raised gradually to the level they would have been at today had they been indexed at the rate of inflation since 1968, the year in which they were first frozen,” said Bachand in his speech on Thursday.
Pedneault disagreed with the government’s claims to be “catching up,” pointing to costs that university students are required to absorb in addition to tuition fees.
“Every university charges thousand of dollars of auxillary fees which are undistinguishable from tuition fees for most students,” he said. “If anything, we’re already past what the 1968 amount of tuition, with indexation, would be.”
Bachand further stated that, even with tuition increases, students would be assuming less than 17 per cent of the cost of their studies, and that a third of the funds generated would be returned to students through bursaries.
“For us, we didn’t want to see tuition increase without an increase in student aid and a sustained investment on the part of the government,” said McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum to The Daily. “Some governments, when they increase tuition, pull back on their own investments – they haven’t done that. These are all steps in the right direction.”
Pedneault, however, said that governments were reducing their contributions to universities’ annual revenues. “If you look at the drop in the financial stake of the government in universities, most of that is being made up for by tuition increases,” he said.
In his speech, Bachand maintained that “there is no evidence of a link between university participation and tuition fees.”
However, Pedneault pointed to statistics from the 1990s, which document declining enrolment in the Université du Québec system accompanying tuition increases.
“The effects of a tuition increase, or projected increase, are felt as soon as it is announced in these universities, not when it comes into effect,” he said. “There are a lot of people who won’t be able to finish their studies.”
“It’s very clear to anyone who works in the universities or who works with students on a daily basis, or has to be a student, that these tuition increases have a very heavy effect,” he added.
Munroe-Blum was also concerned that the government would take a third of the new tuition revenues for Quebec student aid, because international and out-of-province students will be paying into this pool but will not be eligible to receive it.
“We’ve been recommending that [a third] of net new tuition go to student aid, but that the universities do it so that they keep it with the students who bring it in,” she said. “Right now we assess student need independent of where the students come from.”
Tuition fees for out-of-province non-residents of Quebec is set at $5,668 with international tuition ranging from $11,984 to $14,879 for 2010-11. The budget states that increases for non-Quebec tuition fees will be determined by the government in coming months. Pedneault explained that the budget necessitates that these tuition fees be competitive in comparison to other provincial and international tuition rates.
The budget also outlined its expectations for universities to “share the effort” of funding.
“Universities will have an interest in increasing services offered directly to enterprises: they should reinforce their connections with enterprises in order to obtain supplementary resources,” reads the budget.
“The surprising thing in [the budget] is just how the government is just going full speed ahead with the commercialization of universities – making them closer to the needs of businesses,” Pedneault noted. “It’s really written in black and white in this budget.”
Pedneault pointed to other clauses that increase promotion of private donorship, an increased focus on university governance, and the stipulation that universities must enter into partnership agreements with the government, which last for five years and aim to serve as an instrument of dialogue. However, Pedneault sees the partnerships alleviating the responsibility of bad policies from the hands of both universities and the government.
“It’s confirming exactly how a model of higher education is going to be destroyed in Quebec,” said Pedneault, pointing to another clause compiling different sources universities can use to generate revenue. One of the listed recommendations is increasing the price of food services on campus, which to Pedneault amounts to a “hidden tuition increase.”