News | Principal discusses international students in Quebec

Tuition and underfunding major concerns

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum addressed a crowd of 425 people last Friday afternoon on the importance of bringing international students to Quebec universities.

The event, hosted by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, was held at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Montreal. The main event of the afternoon was Munroe-Blum’s speech, entitled “Quebec in the race for global talent.”

The speech was structured around “myths” about international students in Quebec. According to Munroe-Blum, one such myth is the fact that “higher tuition rates would drive talented Quebec and international students away from [Quebec] universities.”

“Studies across the country are crystal-clear: no link exists between the amount of tuition and attendance in universities,” she said.

Munroe-Blum also mentioned that McGill seeks to attract international students for the “cultural and intellectual enrichment of our learning community,” and not for gains from higher tuition.

“Under the Quebec funding system, most of the tuition paid by students from outside Quebec returns to the government…Because of this, each year, McGill gives back around $55 million of its students’ fees,” said Munroe-Blum.

SSMU President Josh Redel, who was present at the conference, told The Daily in an email that although the Principal’s statements were based on research, there are important caveats to account for.

“While increased tuition may not affect overall attendance in universities, it is quite likely that higher tuition would certainly affect attendance by under-represented groups that might not have the privilege of being able to afford the higher tuition,” wrote Redel.

According to Redel, SSMU stands for accessible education for all.

Redel also pointed to ways of helping international students in terms of entrance and language support.

“I think [Quebec] needs to provide better support for international students by cutting down the red tape surrounding the visa and study visa process…[and] provide better language support for international students,” wrote Redel. “I think many students would love to be able to learn French and speak it while they are here, but the province provides no such framework to assist in that endeavour. By providing a better support system for teaching and learning French, more students would be able to become employed and would be way more likely to remain in the province.”

Munroe-Blum gave three recommendations: to increase the number of French courses offered at McGill, to increase the number of international student enrolment to 33 per cent, and to encourage investment in higher education.

This event also marked the first meeting of Munroe-Blum and Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne.

Following the conference session, Munroe-Blum met with members of the student and Montreal press. At the meeting, The Daily asked about the effect of the Quebec student strike on McGill’s international reputation.

“The international world is used to disruption and I did a lot of interviews with international media back in the spring. At the same time, London was having riots, California was having riots, everywhere you go in the world there were things happening… It is true today that Montreal is one of the safest really cosmopolitan, big cities where students from around the world can come,” responded Munroe-Blum.

The McGill Tribune asked about the portion of international student tuition that goes into the Quebec financial aid system but which students don’t have access to.

“It is a significant portion of the tuition fee they pay [that] they don’t get the benefit of, and McGill doesn’t get the finances to support them. So if you look around McGill right now, you’ll see blue bins all over our campus asking our employees to bring coats because we have students from the South, from developing countries, who are here without winter clothes,” said Munroe-Blum.

“If you’re coming from a background where no one in your family has gone to university before and you don’t have much financial resources, you need more support than free tuition. You actually need full support for all kinds of services…. We are underfunded so we’re making a strong case – I’ll make it to the Minister – that money should stay where the students pay it,” she added.

The Daily also asked about McGill’s ability to finance international marketing considering the state of university funding.

Munroe-Blum pointed to the fact that the University depends on others – like alumni – to pay for marketing.

“Our Hong Kong alumni and our China mainland alumni are very upset that McGill doesn’t advertise there,” she said. “Queen’s University does, Toronto does, all the American universities do, the Australian universities do, the British universities do, and they are saying, ‘we want our alma mater to be seen in the newspaper and seen on television.’”

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