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Quebec Government Announces Changes to Proposed Tuition Increase

McGill remains opposed to new proposal

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On December 14, the Quebec government revealed changes to the tuition increases previously announced in October. These amendments seek to make out-of-province students pay 33 per cent more than their current tuition, an increase of $8,992 to $12,000. Despite this increase being less than the initial proposal of $17,000, it remains nearly double the amount of out-of-province prices compared to programs at the University of British Columbia or the University of Toronto.

McGill officials anticipate major financial repercussions arising from this decision. Following the announcement, McGill President and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini wrote in a letter to staff and students that through these actions, “Quebec’s reputation around the world will be — and indeed, already is — tarnished.”

The reduction from the previously announced tuition increase is coupled with a clause that requires 80 per cent of students from English-speaking institutions to develop intermediate French proficiency by the time they graduate – a Level 5 oral capability measured by being able to hold a conversation. If anglophone universities are unable to reach the required French-speaking standards, they run the risk of having their provincial funding reduced.

Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry’s statement also revealed an agenda to increase minimum tuition fees for international students from $9,000 to $17,000, nearly twice the previous legal floor. Although McGill’s international tuition is already more than $20,000, above the provincially-set minimum, the government will also now require universities to remit $5,000 per international student to the Ministry of Higher Education, which could disincentivize universities to admit international students. Of the total $407 million the Quebec government earned from international students between 2019 and 2020, 70 per cent came from English universities. The Ministry believes their tax on international students will “better support the French-speaking network [of universities] in strategic areas for the Québec economy.”

Bishop’s University will be allowed to keep its out-of-province tuition rates at $9,000 per year. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor Sébastien Lebel-Grenier stated that the institution was able to “convince the Quebec government that we and the students we welcome to campus from the rest of Canada are not a threat to the French language but rather an essential part of what makes our region unique.”

These tuition hikes will apply to incoming students for the 2024–25 school year, with mandatory French classes set to be implemented the year after. Saini finds the government’s decision to be incompatible with the institution’s goals of opening doors to “students from across Canada and around the world.” He believes that the recent policy is “far worse” than what was first proposed in October because, he says, the government is being influenced by “impressions and emotions, rather than evidence-based decision making.” Such measures, the McGill administration anticipates, will have devastating consequences on student enrollment, on annual revenue, and ultimately on McGill’s global reputation.

First-year student Mara Gibea examined how these increases would impact the choices of those she knows who are considering McGill for university. She stated that, “this causes them to look elsewhere, such as outside the country, making their career paths more difficult considering they would like to build lives in Canada.” Those who seek to experience francophone culture at these English-speaking institutions still face a greater financial burden, removing McGill as a viable possibility for their higher education. In fact, McGill has already witnessed at least a 20 per cent drop in applications from out-of-province prospects, Dr. Saini revealed at an event hosted by Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal this past December.

Quebec has long been protective of its French culture. Thus, these “targeted attacks,” per Saini, are a part of a larger effort to get foreign students more acclimated to Quebec society. Déry claimed that the government aims to “correct the financial imbalance between the anglophone and francophone university network and ensure a better retention and integration rate of Canadian and international students to Quebec society.” This “correction” anticipates around $110 million a year of extra funds to be redistributed, especially to French-language universities, in order to uphold the French language.

Results of this shift have the potential to rupture the whole Quebec economy, observed McGill deputy provost Fabrice Labeau. “There is an established underfunding of the university system as compared to other provinces in Canada by CA$1.4 billion per year […] taking a lot of money from two universities and then redistributing it to every French university in Québec is not solving the real problem,” Labeau told University World News.

Prior to the sudden tuition changes, McGill had planned on launching Rayonnement du français, a language initiative that would allow for easier integration of non-francophone students into Quebec society. In order to implement this plan, the institution would have put aside over $50 million over the next five years. However, Dr. Saini finds the school amidst “​​financial uncertainty” complicating its “ability to launch this initiative.”

Despite its troubles, McGill recently launched a $3,000 Canada Award that will offset the tuition increases for incoming out-of-province students, in an attempt to make tuition approximate to 2023–2024 levels. Around 80 per cent of these students are eligible for the new award, applicable for those studying in Arts, Architecture, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Education, Music, Science, and Nursing.

Although McGill is attempting to mitigate the impending damage, there is no telling just how significantly the tuition increases could affect not just McGill but Quebec higher education as a whole. In response, McGill is taking measures to ward against devastating impacts that the government’s proposal could have on the institution’s budget and reputation.

Still, worry looms over students and staff. Gibea expressed her concern regarding the institution’s reputation: “without the diverse student population that Montreal is known for, less students will be inclined to build a life in the province and facilitate the province’s economy, as well as their inclination to learn French. By restricting financial equity for anglophones there is a restriction of opportunity for all.”