Editorial: Tuition edict marks sad day for all Quebec

English universities are Quebec universities that educate Quebecers of all backgrounds and contribute immensely to Quebec society.

Article content

Premier François Legault kept Quebec’s English universities in limbo for weeks after announcing a doubling of tuition for out-of-province students that would gut their enrolment and finances. On Thursday, his government disregarded all warnings and unveiled a new scheme that McGill University president Deep Saini characterized as even worse.

In a letter sent to the rectors of McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s, Higher Education Mininster Pascale Déry explained Quebec will hike tuition for “non-Québécois” students to $12,000 from $9,000 rather than the proposed $17,000. And the government will also require English universities to ensure 80 per cent of their graduates attain an intermediate level of French — or face sanctions. That’s double the 40 per cent the universities themselves put forth in a constructive and “historic” offer.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

There’s an exemption for Bishop’s from the fee increase and the potential penalties, but not the francization demands.

Neither Déry nor Minister of the French Language Jean-François Roberge had the courage to hold a press conference to explain or justify these new measures. Perhaps that’s because they defy explanation or justification.

The $12,000 is still an uncompetitive rate, about a third higher than the average domestic tuition across Canada. And students will be expected to pay more while taking longer to complete their programs, once the French requirements are factored in.

The bar has been set unrealistically high to the point that McGill and Concordia stand to lose even more students, money and prestige if they are punished for failing to meet the terms of this Faustian bargain.

McGill and Concordia are already paying a steep price. Applications for next year have cratered and their credit ratings are under review. McGill has instituted a hiring freeze and Concordia is cutting its budget. This will lead to job losses and program cuts.

These may be English universities, but they are still Quebec universities that educate Quebecers of all linguistic backgrounds and contribute immensely to Quebec society. Yet they are being deliberately damaged.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Students from elsewhere in Canada, who are being treated as financial freeloaders as well as language scapegoats, represent only 4.7 per cent of the university population in Quebec.

The plan also ignores the fact Quebecers study in other provinces, too, including 6,400 who go to university in Ontario. Quebec’s punitive new rates could jeopardize these opportunities for reciprocity and choice for francophone and anglophone students alike.

This is a plan that no one has called for and few support.

The business community has warned it will hurt the economy, exacerbate labour shortages and make Quebec unattractive to skilled workers.

The rectors of almost all French universities in Quebec signed an open letter denouncing the scheme as misguided and counterproductive. Even Alexandre Cloutier, the head of the Université du Québec network, the lone holdout, said he “never asked for” this.

Many students at francophone universities joined their English counterparts in the streets to protest.

Mayor Valérie Plante has said it will hurt Montreal’s reputation as a welcoming city for students and all the economic spinoffs they bring.

More than 33,342 Quebecers signed a petition sponsored by Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy, asking Legault to backtrack.

A poll showed most Quebecers support the English universities‘ alternatives to raising tuition.

The bottom line is there is no reason to do this and many reasons not to — except to erode the vitality of Quebec’s English-speaking community, destroy English universities, weaken English institutions and score cheap, empty, populist political points.

It’s a sad day for all Quebec.

Related Stories

Advertisement 4

Article content

Article content