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CAQ’s New Tuition Plan Is Worse Than the First

December update builds on nationalism and xenophobia

Since the CAQ first announced increased tuition fees for out-of-province students in October 2023, other unsettling developments have come to light. On December 14, the government announced an updated plan which is arguably even worse than the original. The xenophobia and racism that the Legault government previously made half-hearted attempts to disguise amidst confusing economic figures is now more blatant than ever. According to the new proposal, English-speaking universities in Quebec will not only have to set potentially devastating tuition hikes for their out-of-province and international students – they will also have to make passing grades on a French proficiency test a requirement for these students to graduate.

This mandate is just one of many created by the CAQ in the last few years under the guise of “protecting the French language.” With the rollout of discriminatory language-based legislation only continuing to increase, Quebec risks setting a dangerous precedent. For instance, since its passing in 2022, Bill 96 has made life for non-francophone residents of Quebec difficult: all immigration services must be carried out in French six months after the candidate’s arrival in the province, companies must publicly display their workers’ French language proficiency, and all civil administrations – such as government agencies, health organizations, and social services – must carry out their business primarily in French. The Legault government has actively been fostering an exclusionary, nationalist atmosphere in Quebec – one which they are now deliberately extending to academia.

The CAQ’s December plan proposes that not only will out-of-province and international students at English-speaking universities face stark increases to their tuition rates, but that international students from France and Belgium will, conversely, see decreases to their tuition rates. While most out-of-province and international students will pay upwards of $12,000 and $20,000 respectively, French and Belgian students will reportedly have their tuition fees reduced by almost two-thirds to $2,881 – the same rate as Quebec students. Furthermore, La Presse reported that the Legault government is currently seeking to offer this same price reduction to students from Switzerland who identify as francophone. President of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) Eva Ludvig said of these developments: “If a government were trying to devise a plan to starve Quebec’s English-language universities out of existence, it would look a lot like this.”

The new policies for the tuition hikes reveal another side to the CAQ’s objectives that is far more sinister. By singling out francophones from France, Belgium, and Switzerland as the sole recipients of this tuition reduction, the Quebec government is deliberately turning their backs on the millions of French-speakers outside of Europe. The fact that students from the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of the world are actively being excluded from the plan to “protect the French language” points to the hypocrisy and bigotry atop which this mandate stands. It’s clear that the only francophones the CAQ wants to attract are francophones from Europe.

McGill has made it clear that it does not support this updated plan, emphasizing that there will still be significant impacts on university enrollment as well as the Montreal economy. As such, the university has promised to implement a new bursary called the Canada Award to offset the increased tuition costs. The bursary amount would range from $3,000 to $9,000 each year for out-of-province students in the Faculties of Arts, Education, Nursing, and Music as well as the School of Architecture and most science programs.

Unfortunately, this bursary program is an insufficient response to the negative repercussions of the new tuition plan. First of all, international students are not eligible for this bursary, despite also experiencing tuition increases. Additionally, McGill’s December 19 press release states that only 80 per cent of out-of-province students will be eligible, without explaining what excludes the other 20 per cent. Ultimately, however, one of the biggest questions is how McGill will maintain this bursary program. McGill has admitted that the new tuition increases could cause them to lose between $42 and $94 million each year due to drops in enrollment. While President Saini has said that the award “will require the University to make financial sacrifices,” it’s hard to know how much they’re willing to sacrifice to maintain current tuition rates if McGill’s financial situation worsens.

These tuition hikes are an unacceptable attack on future students’ access to education, and it is unlikely that ongoing negotiations between university administrations and the Quebec government will produce positive results. It’s crucial that we continue to fight for the quality and accessibility of education through whatever means possible.

In response to these tuition increases, student associations at McGill and Concordia are planning to go on strike from January 31 to February 2. Student strikes are a tactic that have been used by student associations in Quebec on numerous occasions to oppose tuition increases, the largest and most recent example being in 2012. If your department’s student association will be striking during that time, join the picket line and don’t go to class! If you’re not striking this time around, there will be other ways to participate, learn, and show your solidarity. Students at Concordia will be organizing teach-ins on campus activism on January 31 and February 1. For action happening at McGill, follow @ssmu_ea on Instagram for updates.