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Quebec’s Tuition Hikes Are Prohibitive, Not Protective

Legault’s government targets non-francophone students

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On October 13, the Legault government announced that, starting in Fall 2024, it would almost double the tuition fees for out-of-province students attending English-language universities in Quebec. Currently, the tuition for out-of-province students is $8,992 per year, but this is set to increase to about $17,000 per year for students enrolling in the upcoming school year. An increase is also expected for incoming international students, but the amount has not yet been confirmed. However, students from France and Belgium, who currently pay the same fee as out-of-province students, will not see an increase in their tuition. The rationale for this decision comes from the Legault government’s long-standing desire to “protect the French language.”

“The measures announced will allow us to recover money that will be used to preserve, promote and enhance the French language in the university system,” Jean-François Roberge, Minister of the French Language, said in a statement to CBC. He also expressed concern about the “anglicizing effect” that non-Francophone students were supposedly bringing to Montreal. 

The administrations of all three of Quebec’s anglophone universities – McGill, Concordia, and Bishop’s University – have decried this tuition hike and expressed serious concerns that this will affect their recruitment capacities. It is important to note that these English-language universities were not consulted prior to the announcement of these tuition hikes. McGill Principal Deep Saini wrote in an email to students that “We are concerned that, in the government’s announcement, prospective students from outside Quebec may hear the message that they are not welcome – despite Montreal’s reputation as a global education destination, and the extraordinary contributions of students and alumni within Quebec.” Meanwhile, Bishop’s University Principal Sébastien Lebel-Grenier said that the university would be in “dire financial straits” if students from the rest of Canada stopped attending.

These concerns are shared by student unions. A joint statement by SSMU and the Concordia Student Union described this tuition increase as “undemocratic and discriminatory.” They argued that these increases would “price out the poorest out-of-province students, saddle students with further debts, and require students to work even more during their studies to afford their education.” They demanded that the government consider post-secondary education a human right and negotiate fee increases with student unions before implementing them. 

The Daily condemns these tuition hikes and calls on the government of Quebec to repeal them. Post-secondary education is already expensive for many students. This increase would put even more financial strain on out-of-province students, potentially preventing them from attending university in Quebec at all. Prospective students should be able to study at the post-secondary institution that best fits their needs and interests, and not be forced to choose based on their or their caregivers’ financial capacity. These tuition hikes will mainly target lower-income out-of-province students, which will undoubtedly exacerbate existing classism and elitism present within higher education. 

These measures put forward by the CAQ are a continuation of their numerous policies targeting anglophones and other non-francophones, aimed at either assimilating them or pushing them out of the province entirely. Bill 96, adopted in May 2022, severely limits Quebecers’ ability to access public services, including healthcare, in a language other than French. This bill had previously been challenged in court for being unconstitutional and violating the rights of non-French speakers, particularly Indigenous people.

If the Quebec government wants to preserve the French language, it should focus on integrating, not alienating, anglophone out-of-province students. This means using its resources to make learning the language more accessible to those who study in the province. If non-French speakers studying in Quebec are encouraged to learn French, this may incentivize them to stay in the province after graduation and build a life here. In fact, McGill shelved a program to help students, faculty, and staff learn French after the announcement, citing financial uncertainty. Quebec universities could draw inspiration from programs such as the University of Ottawa’s French Immersion program, which awards bursaries to all full-time students taking courses in French.

If you want to learn French, there are many opportunities to learn the language at a low cost. The Explore program offers Canadian students the opportunity to learn French for a month at a Canadian university with most of the costs covered by the government. The Quebec government also offers free French classes to people living in Quebec.

If you are interested in getting involved in opposing these tuition hikes, come to SSMU’s Town Hall on Thursday, October 26 at 6:00–8:00 p.m. in Arts 150 to share your thoughts. If you feel comfortable, consider participating in any protests against these hikes. Quebec students have a long history of reversing tuition hikes, and we can do it again!