Opinion: Quebec's tuition hikes raise barriers to inclusive learning

While the negative impact on economic well-being has been well noted, the racial injustice of this policy seems to have gone unnoticed.

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We strongly believe Quebec’s new policy targeting prospective out-of-province students and international students in English language universities deeply damages inclusive learning environments and risks promoting racism by limiting access to education.

The policy aims to raise out-of-province minimum student tuition fees by about 89 per cent to $17,000 and set a minimum threshold for international students at $20,000. Both of these student groups include already deeply vulnerable communities, such as Indigenous and racialized students who live out of province or from low-middle income countries.  

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Though politically framed as protecting French — Premier François Legault said “it is a question of equality for French universities” — in operation this policy will create systemic barriers denying education rights to racialized and Indigenous students who represent a high proportion of low-income communities nationally and globally.  

We feel this policy will result in a form of elite capture and damage inclusive, anti-racist learning environments. While the negative impact on economic well-being has been well noted, the racial injustice of this policy seems to have gone unnoticed.

Currently, 39 per cent of Concordia students and 37 per cent of McGill students self-identify as racialized. This is on par with other Canadian universities (40 per cent). However, despite progress, barriers continue to exist for racialized and Indigenous students.

It is vital that we observe this policy from an intersectional perspective. While on the surface only monetary cost stands out, for racialized and Indigenous students the increased tuition results in a repeat of century-old historical structural barriers to education that promote racism and classism. It should be noted that affected out-of-province and international students also include vulnerable francophone students — not just anglophone. In the end, the policy will likely contribute to a more dominant white, monolingual Quebec. 

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Over the last few years, universities such as McGill have committed to an equity-focused and inclusive future by building a diverse faculty by hiring Indigenous, Black and racialized faculty. Racially diverse student and faculty bodies are vital to providing a world-class and competitive education. The impact of this policy would mean losing a vibrant and racially diverse student population and, we fear, cause a domino effect on faculty hiring.

Teaching to engage diversity, to include all learners, and to seek racial equity is essential for preparing civically engaged adults. This is essential for creating a society that recognizes the contributions of all people — a value that aligns with Quebec’s egalitarian principles.   

Quebec universities have been making proactive and conscious internal policy choices to increase access to racialized and Indigenous students. We believe this move by the Coalition Avenir Québec government will hamstring those efforts due to unrecoverable budget cuts and cut off resources for much needed equity-centred initiatives and policies such as waiving tuition for Indigenous communities.

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Education is a key aspect in upholding human rights in truth and reconciliation processes, and in our view the tuition hike demonstrates a lack of responsibility to upholding the right to education of Indigenous communities.   

All evidence points to a policy that significantly restricts fair and inclusive access to education, and a policy that diminishes inclusive learning environments. Intertwined with Bill 96 (language), Bill 21 (secularism) and efforts to stem immigration, it will contribute further to the erosion of racialized communities in Quebec.   

Both francophone and anglophone communities have vehemently opposed this plan by the Legault government, especially among students — the future of Quebec. Given the pervasive racial and economic injustices this policy would perpetuate, it is worth asking who this policy is serving and whether it is adding building blocks to maintain systemic racism in Quebec.  

Shashika Bandara is a doctoral candidate at McGill University focusing on global health policy and governance. Ananya Tina Banerjee is an assistant professor and equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism lead at the School of Population and Global Health at McGill.

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