News  McGill contemplates tuition freeze

Administration expects $90 million loss

Quebec premier-elect Pauline Marois announced Wednesday morning that her government will abolish tuition hikes by decree and abrogate Bill 78, introduced last spring by Jean Charest’s Liberal government.

The announcement came the day after her party, Parti Québecois (PQ), won a plurality of seats in the National Assembly of Quebec.

The decision will affect McGill’s funding directly, as the budget for the 2013 fiscal year – approved earlier this summer – relies on increased revenue from the tuition hike. The University forecasted a financial deficit of $7 million for 2013 and a $400,000 surplus for the 2012 fiscal year. Based on these projections, the accumulated deficit for McGill would stand at $281.9 million for 2013.

The budget, prepared by Provost Anthony Masi, also projected cumulative tuition increases for the next five years and planned to tackle McGill’s financial deficit in large part with revenue generated from tuition hikes.

“Issuing a decree to roll back the increases to previous levels means that our previously announced deficit of $7 million will increase to $13 million for the 2013 fiscal year. But remember, the increases over five years were to have been cumulative,” Masi told The Daily in an email.

Assuming that the current student population remains stable, this means an expected budget shortfall of $6 million in 2013, $12 million in 2014, $18 million in 2016, $24 million in 2017, and $30 million in 2018, according to  Masi.

By 2018, the total expected loss in revenue would amount to $90 million.

Masi told The Daily that the University is currently waiting for an official decision from the government of Quebec.

“While we are studying several unpleasant scenarios, until we actually see the alternatives that the new government of Quebec will put on the table for providing additional revenues to Quebec’s already cash-strapped university system, I am not in a position to indicate the magnitude of cuts that we at McGill will have to endure,” he wrote.

In late August, the PQ told students to delay paying their tuition bills until after elections, as the party planned to abolish the hike.

In response to PQ’s statement, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson told the CBC in late August that he was “amused” by the proposal.

“I think it’s premature. We have a government in place; we have a ministry in place. The ministry has given us directives. We have our bills already sent out; our students at McGill are expected to pay their tuition bill by August 31, and we’re expecting them to pay,” he told the CBC.

The decision to reinstate a tuition freeze was received positively by many of the student associations that had been active during the strike earlier this year. In an interview with The Daily, Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec  (FECQ) President Élaine Laberge said that the announcement from the PQ signified a victory for the student strike.

“If the tuition hikes are abolished, then our objective has been achieved,” she said in French.

FECQ is confident that Marois’ promise will be fulfilled.

“When you call your first press conference as a premier, not in a period for [campaign] promises, but in a period to fulfill promises, then you’re bound to respect that decision,” she added.

Whether or not a new tuition freeze would be instated is still unclear. While Marois has called for a forum to discuss the future of higher education in Quebec, FECQ has not yet been provided with details regarding the panel’s programs or organization.

 – with files from Laurent Bastien Corbeil