News | Controversy surrounds university underfunding

McGill contemplates “worst case scenario”

Nearly a month after the Parti Québécois (PQ) gained a plurality in the National Assembly, McGill is concerned about the change in rhetoric from the government regarding university financing. Higher Education Minister Pierre Duschesne told La Presse on Saturday that he was not convinced about the existence of university underfunding.

Various actors from the education sector plan to debate the issue at a summit on higher education later this year.

Without a tuition hike or an increase in government funding to solve the problem, the University could be heading toward a “worst case scenario,” according to Vice-Principal (External Relations) Olivier Marcil.

“We can have a lot of success with limited resources when we compare McGill to other world universities, but at some point it’s an elastic that will reach a breaking point,” Marcil told The Daily in French.

The notion of underfunding is mired in controversy.

In an interview with The Daily, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) President Martine Desjardins alleged that university underfunding was fabricated by the Conférence des Recteurs et des Principaux des Universités du Québec (CREPUQ) in 2007 as a justification for the tuition hikes.

CREPUQ brings together administrations from 18 Quebec universities.

“From our perspective, we are talking about mismanagement. There have been numerous studies that prove that universities have the money, but that it isn’t allocated for research and education,” Desjardins told The Daily in French. “They are transferred into funds that have nothing to do with education.”

A study conducted by CREPUQ in 2010 found that universities in Quebec were underfunded by around $620 million for the 2007-2008 academic year. This number, however, was disputed by the Institute de recherché et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS), a progressive think tank based in Montreal.

According to a 2011 report by IRIS that quotes CREPUQ’s study, “[the figure $620 million] is not based on an analysis of universities’ needs that points to a lack of resources, but rather on ‘the current difference between the financial resources Quebec universities have at their disposal compared to what institutions in other provinces have.’”

The number only reveals the “additional resources [universities] would gain if Quebec raised its tuition fees to match the Canadian average,” continued the report.

Ludvic Moquin-Beaudry, communication secretary for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), told the Daily in French, “The money invested per capita in Quebec is more than the Canadian average. The problem is not about a lack of funds. It’s about where the money is being spent.”

McGill’s latest budget stated that revenues have grown “consistently” over the last few years, but have failed to keep up with rising expenditures.

According to the budget released by the University this year, most of these costs are associated with “increases in salary and benefit costs.”

Net assets have increased from $873,290 at the end of 2009 to $1,167,625 in 2012, the budget read.

McGill’s debt for its operating budget is equal to 16.5 per cent of the University’s total operating revenue. It reached a high point of 28.4 percent in the 1991 fiscal year and fell back to its lowest point at 3 per cent in the 2002 fiscal year.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum is slated to represent the University at the upcoming education summit, according to Marcil. The University plans to work closely with CREPUQ to explain the “real situation” to the government, he said.

ASSÉ will consult its members before deciding whether to attend the summit.

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