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Admin talks university finances at SSMU Council

Motions call for more transparency in the education system

Correction appended January 17, 2012

SSMU Legislative Council discussed university financing and the state of education in Quebec at their first meeting of 2013.
The meeting opened with a financial management report from Provost Anthony Masi, who spent the better part of half an hour answering SSMU VP External Robin Reid-Fraser’s question about whether Quebec universities were truly underfunded or just mismanaged.

Masi’s response focused on the changing directives given to McGill from the provincial government over the course of the year. “If there’s anything being mismanaged, it’s the way government have asked universities to prepare their budgets,” he said.

Masi stated that the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) decision to abolish the tuition increase slated for September meant a loss of $7 million in expected revenue for the University.

He continued that McGill was pushed to cut an additional 5.2 per cent from its annual budget following the PQ’s controversial December announcement that universities in the province retroactively cut $124 million from their costs.

Because the decision was announced so late in the fiscal year – and because the province expects the savings to be realized by April 2013 – the administration argues that the cut will amount to 15 per cent for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“Our underfunding is real this year. Absolutely real…because we’ve had four different messages to prepare our budget…I don’t think that’s financial mismanagement on the part of the university,” Masi stated.

The themes of university financing and the state of education in Quebec continued with two motions introduced by Reid-Fraser.
The first, the motion regarding an alternative education summit, was amended to instead call for an états généraux.

“An alternative education summit could have been quite interesting, but it would have required a great deal of resources on the part of us, [Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ)], and whoever else were to be involved,” Reid-Fraser said in an email to The Daily.

An états généraux is a process of consultation spanning from a year to 18 months which the Quebec National Assembly would be responsible for commissioning and funding, which would include the participation of student associations across the province.

Reid-Fraser said that the period of time provided by the états généraux would allow for more discussion, and the creation of a clearer collective vision than the current education summit.

Reid-Fraser intimated that the process was long overdue. “We haven’t had an examination of higher education in Quebec since the Parent Commission in the 1960s,” she said.

In light of the amendments to the motion regarding an alternative education summit, the motion regarding états généraux was amended to ask for a comparative audit of university finances in Quebec.

“There doesn’t seem to be an overall picture of university financing,” Reid-Fraser said at Council. She suggested a comparative approach rather than the current focus on individual institutions.

SSMU President Josh Redel clarified the wording and intent of the motion. “I think here the term ‘audit’ is trying to get at the core of why we spend on certain things. …When you say you want more transparency, that’s like seeing it, and I think the audit is next step where we now investigate it.”

The motion regarding états généraux was tabled indefinitely to allow time for more research.

Reid-Fraser told The Daily that she would be working with the SSMU External Affairs Committee and Political Attaché & Researcher so that the demands can be brought to TaCEQ and to the provincial government.

Two motions regarding SSMU by-laws 13.6.1 and 13.6.3, which deal with regulations on club status and membership, were passed with no opposition. VP Clubs & Services Allison Cooper told Council that she intended for the by-law amendments to open full status to clubs with a more unconventional structure.

A motion regarding the removal of Queer McGill’s undergraduate fund by-law passed as well. Cooper explained that the elimination of the by-law allowed for a more efficient discretionary system for allocating internal funds.

A motion regarding an amendment to the Elections SSMU electoral timeline passed with no opposition. The electoral timeline will now take into account reading week in March.