Commentary  McGill Buries Accessibility

Last week, after a years-long dispute culminating in an over $2 million fine in March, the Quebec Ministry of Education made a deal with McGill, permitting a tuition hike of over $27,000 in our MBA program.  Quebec based its decision on the fact that McGill has redefined the program as a “specialized MBA” with an international business focus. The University has promised to hire more international professors – so that they form the majority in the program – and will mandate a required study abroad session.

MBA tuition stood at $2,067 per year for Quebec students until September 2010 when the figure ballooned to $29,500.  Tuition was increased another $3,000 this summer, and Peter Todd, Dean of the Faculty of Management, has stated his desire to continue to increase MBA tuition to the national average of around $37,000. Quebec students, who will be affected by these changes, make up roughly 50 per cent of the student body of the MBA program. Before McGill switched to the self-funded model, out-of-province tuition was at $5,667.60 and international students paid a rate of $25,272. Everyone will pay the same: $32,500.

The Ministry of Education initially argued that the fee hike violated Quebec’s educational accessibility policy. However, the province excuses increased fees if they apply to a “specialized” program, and with the promised changes, McGill will qualify for this category. The Daily agrees with the Ministry’s initial argument. Such a radical increase (over 1,000 per cent) jeopardizes the academic prospects of any students pursuing this program and contributes to a trend of tuition hikes that lowers accessibility to higher education in general.  It is disappointing that the University has been able to escape punishment through such a superficial alteration.

McGill’s administration argues that the program was unsustainable in the past. The cost per student for an MBA degree is roughly $22,000, and with Quebec students paying only $2,000, the administration said the program was losing its elite international status while being subsidized by other programs. Regardless of whether or not these arguments are valid, this decision seriously inhibits accessibility and could result in similar increases in the tuition of other programs. Any improvements in the programs quality would be negated by the accompanying increases in inaccessibility. For those who can no longer afford to attend the program, any chance of upward mobility in an increasingly degree-dependent job market is made even smaller.

Furthermore, the high price tag itself has proved enough to discourage students from even applying to McGill’s program. Last year, with the $29,500 fee, enrolment in the program dropped 65 per cent. To make matters worse, with the program now funded independent of provincial grants, Quebec has withdrawn its contribution to financial aid for the MBA program, denting any internal efforts to increase accessibility for the program. A portion of the new tuition revenue is being funnelled to financial aid, but the increased aid is still inadequate.

This further change, which will be implemented in the fall of 2012, will only widen the gap between those who have enough money to attend self-funded MBA programs and those who can’t afford higher education at all. Furthermore, with a degree focusing on international business, graduates will be even less likely to seek employment in Quebec, instead taking their reinforced resumes elsewhere. Quebec is effectively approving a program that will not benefit the province. Unlike the province, The Daily maintains that this decision sets a dangerous precedent for tuition hikes in all programs.