The McGill Daily: What are your thoughts on the tuition increases set to begin next September?
Heather Munroe-Blum: I believe these are a necessity for ensuring the quality of higher education in Quebec.
Over the past years, Quebec’s low tuition policy has not improved accessibility or participation in post-secondary education in this province. Indeed, Quebec continues to have low participation rates and low university degree completion rates by Canadian standards, notwithstanding that it has the lowest tuition rates in Canada.
Having the lowest tuition rates has put universities in Quebec – and, hence, Quebeckers – at a comparative disadvantage vis-a-vis our peer institutions in the rest of the country. Our universities are starved for funds to provide adequate student aid, to improve facilities and patrimonial buildings, and to provide appropriate levels of student services.
Those who lack financial means require better financial support in order to support that cost of participating in the university degree – not low or no tuition fees. One means to achieve this is to have universities allocate some percentage of their net new tuition revenues to student financial support, as McGill does at the rate of 30 cents on the dollar.
MD: What are your thoughts on the provincial government’s general funding of post-secondary education?
HMB: Considering that Quebec currently ranks 56 of 60 provinces and states in North America in relation to its GDP per capita, one cannot expect that the government will have the capacity, alone, to close the funding gap between us and our peers in the rest of the country to support high quality university programs and university accessibility.
As it is, the current plan, which will see tuition rise by $325 a year, will find Quebec universities charging a tuition fee in 2016-17 that is only two-thirds of the Canadian average tuition fees charged in the last academic year.
MD: What feedback have you received from students about the tuition increases?
HMB: Mixed. I am aware that many students oppose the planned increase and some, in fact, object to the idea of any tuition fees. Free university education sounds good, if one ignores the actual effect of underfunding on both accessibility and quality. There are also many students, and their families, who consider tuition a worthwhile investment, and there are few places in the world where the tuition fees charged yield the value for dollar that these do here.
MD: What action will you be taking on Quebec tuition in the near future?
HMB: McGill has represented a common position with respect to tuition fees over the last many years. It will continue to urge the government to support means to bridge the significant funding gap between Quebec universities and their peers in the rest of the country. This will likely best be accomplished by a combination of increased operating grant support and increased programs of support for competitively allocated awards and grants to universities.