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Doubts surround summit on higher education

Government seeks $124 million in cuts and fee hike for international students


Students and university administrators from across the province are growing increasingly skeptical of the government’s upcoming summit on higher education, accusing the Parti Québecois (PQ) of determining the outcome of the summit in advance.

Despite promises of further investments, Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne asked universities on Tuesday to find $124 million in cuts by the end of the year.

In an interview with Radio-Canada on Wednesday, Rector of Université Laval Denis Brière criticized the government for reneging on its commitments.

“Those [cuts] go against the fundamental rules that the government created for the holding of this summit, which was supposed to establish a consensus,” he said in French.

His message was echoed on Friday in an email from Principal Heather Munroe-Blum to members of the McGill community, which described the cuts as “short-sighted” and claimed that they “threaten the very future of Quebec.”

“Now, we are being asked to manage the financial decline of the educational system, and the proposed decline of our educational and research contributions, our services to our students and professors, and our upkeep and management of our facilities,” the email read.

McGill is set to reduce its operating grant by $17 million to $21 million, according to the University.

Administrators are not alone in their criticism.

On Wednesday, l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ) called the cuts “unacceptable” and vowed to mobilize students for the summit in February.

“[The announcement] has confirmed what we feared: when the government wants to make a decision, it does so behind closed doors without any consultation. It’s the government that is avoiding dialogue, not the student associations,” read a statement in French on ASSÉ’s website.

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) has also expressed doubts on whether the government intends to keep its word.

Before Wednesday’s announcement, FEUQ President Martine Desjardins had already denounced the government’s decision to raise fees for international students.

In an interview with The Daily, Desjardins said that Duchesne had called for a 7.6 per cent increase in ancillary fees for international students in an internal document sent to the Advisory Committee on the Financial Accessibility of Education, a government advisory body.

“When you calculate the 7.6 per cent, it amounts to around $254,” she said in French. “It’s as if they had the hike, but for their ancillary fees and not for their tuition fees.”

“In the context of these talks, we consider the government’s decision to be absurd,” she added.

While the increase in ancillary fees is not yet slated to go into effect, several students said that they have already been charged.

“[The University] was told before the elections to raise the fees by this much, and then they were told after the elections to reimburse the fees for Quebec students, but they haven’t decided what to do for out-of-province and international students,” Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney told The Daily.

Mooney said that PGSS has pressured both the government and the University to reimburse the fees.

The government is planning to hold a preliminary panel on higher education next week at Trois-Rivières.