'Catastrophic' tuition plan is a 'direct attack' on English universities, McGill says

'Catastrophic' tuition plan is a 'direct attack' on English universities, McGill says

'Catastrophic' tuition plan is a 'direct attack' on English universities, McGill says

Changes “are far worse than those announced on Oct. 13 — worse for Quebec, worse for its universities, worse for Quebec businesses who need talent, and worse for McGill.”

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Quebec’s “catastrophic” plan to overhaul university financing is a “targeted attack” on English universities, McGill’s president says.

The changes, made public Thursday, “are far worse than those announced on Oct. 13 — worse for Quebec, worse for its universities, worse for Quebec businesses who need talent, and worse for McGill,” Deep Saini told a hastily arranged press conference.

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He made the comment after Quebec announced it is moving ahead with a major tuition hike for students from the rest of Canada and new French proficiency requirements for students from outside Quebec.

McGill and Concordia say the plan will lead to a steep decline in the enrolment of students from the rest of Canada and other countries.

“We have made thoughtful and realistic proposals to the government from the beginning of November until now, but the government has turned these against us,” Saini said. “In light of the damage these measures will cause, I can only view this as a targeted attack on institutions that have been part of Quebec and that have contributed to Quebec for hundreds of years.”

He was referring to McGill and Concordia. Quebec’s third English university, Bishop’s, has been given a partial exemption from the changes.

Saini said the government is putting forward an “incoherent” policy based on “impressions and emotions, rather than evidence-based decision-making.”

He said he wanted to make it clear that “McGill isn’t leaving Quebec,” adding that it’s “proud to be a Quebec university.”

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However, when a reporter asked if the university will consider opening a campus in another province, he said: “We are looking at all options possible to McGill, and I won’t discount any options at this point.”

Saini also did not rule out a possible lawsuit to challenge the changes, saying McGill will consider “any and all options.”

Concordia president Graham Carr said he is “profoundly disappointed” by the decision.

It will hurt his university’s finances, shrink the size of its student body and hurt Quebec’s reputation, he said in an interview.

English universities’ counter-proposals were made “in a spirit of partnership,” but there was no reciprocation from the government, Carr said.

“It isn’t just the case of the government not listening to Concordia and McGill,” Carr said. “They’re not listening to Montreal (Mayor Valérie Plante). They’re not listening to the business community. And they’re not listening to many ardent francophone nationalists, who understood what a real turning point it was for the three universities to come forward with the proposition we had on francization.”

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In a letter sent to the heads of the province’s three English universities Thursday morning, Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry said the province will:

  • Set tuition for students from other provinces at $12,000, as of fall 2024. That’s 33 per cent more than they currently pay. The new rate will apply to undergraduates and those enrolled in non-thesis master’s degrees. The government’s initial plan, announced in October, would have almost doubled the out-of-province rate to $17,000.
  • Require 80 per cent of students from outside Quebec studying in the province to reach an intermediate level of French by the time they graduate, as of fall 2025. Universities will face financial penalties if the target isn’t met. There are currently no French requirements in Quebec universities.

The government is also sticking with aspects of its tuition plan that focus on international students. A $20,000 minimum annual tuition rate is being introduced for this clientele, and the province will claw back more of the money foreign students pay to study in Quebec. English universities now collect the bulk of tuition from foreign students.

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The Moody’s credit rating agency estimates Quebec universities could receive, on average, up to $5,000 less per international student.

Déry told the leaders of Bishop’s, Concordia and McGill the changes will achieve several objectives. The funding of English and French universities will be more fairly balanced, she said. And the changes will decrease the amount spent subsidizing the education of students from the rest of Canada. In addition, the plan will help preserve the French language, Déry said.

Bishop’s will be given a partial exemption. Up to 825 students from other provinces will be allowed to continue to pay the old tuition rate. And Bishop’s will not face penalties if French targets aren’t met.

Déry defended the plan in a Radio-Canada interview on Thursday. A spokesperson for the minister said she was not available to speak with the Gazette.

Concordia and McGill say the government’s plan will drive away students, devastating their finances.

At $12,000, tuition for students from other provinces will be about twice what is charged in arts and sciences programs at such institutions as the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

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As for francizing students, Concordia and McGill say 40 per cent would have been a reasonable goal. But an 80-per-cent target will require many students to spend an extra semester in university, McGill has said.

It said a student arriving from another country with no knowledge of French would require “240 hours of courses or something like 18 university credits” of French classes.

Students will be required to reach an oral Level 5 of the Échelle québécoise des niveaux de compétence en français. There are 12 levels in that French proficiency scale. Levels 5 to 8 are intermediate.

Carr criticized the lack of consultation with anglophone institutions and the fact that the government ignored compromise proposals by English universities, one of which suggested a 40-per-cent French proficiency target.

He said he’s “baffled” by the government’s 80-per-cent target, describing it as “completely unrealistic.”

It’s too early to say whether Concordia will have to cut staff or reduce the number of programs it offers, Carr said. The school is looking at several scenarios, but they will depend on how damaging the changes are to recruitment efforts, he added.

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In a letter to the Concordia community published Thursday evening, Carr said the university will not increase tuition for international students that have been approved for 2024-25.

“I have stated repeatedly that these increased tuition fees will be detrimental to Quebec’s economy, society and external image, including how we are viewed internationally. But the decision has been taken and now we must focus on maintaining Concordia’s stature as a welcoming university that equips Quebec, Canadian and international students to be adaptable, innovative and successful in the globalized world of the present and future,” Carr wrote.

Bishop’s said it was pleased with its exemption. In a statement, principal Sébastien Lebel-Grenier thanked “francophone leaders who have come out unequivocally in support of Bishop’s.

“They were 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.”

McGill and Concordia say the university overhaul could cost them more than $150 million in annual revenue. Both have announced hiring freezes. Concordia last month told departments to cut budgets by 7.8 per cent. McGill says it may have to cut up to 700 jobs.

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In the weeks after the original tuition plan was announced, critics described it as misguided and harmful. Detractors included Montreal’s mayor, federal Liberal ministers, provincial Liberal MNAs, and five high-profile French universities, including the Université de Montréal.

Premier François Legault has said the tuition hike will protect the French language and boost funding for French universities. He has said non-French-speaking students from the rest of Canada are anglicizing Montreal.

Ottawa obliged to intervene: MP

The Quebec Community Groups Network, a coalition of 40 anglophone groups, has also spoken out.

“The Legault government is pursuing a path that could bring ruin to two of Quebec’s three English universities and severe economic decline to Montreal,” QCGN director-general Sylvia Martin-Laforge said Thursday.

“But this is more than an attack on … fine universities, it’s an attack on the English-speaking community of Quebec.”

The plan will “flatten” Concordia and McGill, she said.

“If you’re coming to study here from (another country), do you want to spend a whole extra semester in school while your contemporaries are already out into a competitive working world?

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“And if you’re from another province, do you want to pay at least 30 per cent to 50 per cent more than the Canadian average for tuition and spend that extra semester mastering French?”

Montreal MP David Lametti, a former federal justice minister, told The Logic this week the federal government “has an obligation” under recently passed legislation to help Quebec’s English-language universities should provincially mandated tuition hikes undermine their finances.

Lametti is on leave from his job as a law professor at McGill.

The office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not respond to a request for comment from the Gazette.

‘Asian students will go elsewhere’

The Conseil du patronat, Quebec’s largest employers’ group with 70,000 members, on Thursday said it is worried about the repercussions on Quebec’s economy.

In a statement provided to the Gazette, the organization said it is disappointed in the tuition hike for out-of-province students.

It said the 80-per-cent francization requirement is “unrealistic and will ensure that students from Asia (who are important for future sectors such as electric batteries) will simply go elsewhere.”

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Foreign students contribute to research in many sectors, including aeronautics and energy transition, and help reduce the labour shortage since they have the right to work 40 hours per week in addition to their studies, the group noted.

“Depriving ourselves of this resource will hurt our capacity for innovation and business development,” the group said. “We do not believe that this measure solves the problem of underfunding of French-speaking universities.”

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Michel Leblanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, said the government should not set a flat tuition rate of $12,000 for out-of-province students.

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Instead, fees should depend on what programs students are in, to make the rates more competitive with those in the rest of Canada, he said in an interview.

Leblanc said he’s happy Quebec set the French proficiency at Level 5, rather than the original plan of compelling students to reach Level 8.

Students from the rest of Canada and countries where the language is similar to French should be able to reach Level 5 while studying in Quebec, he said. However, it may be more difficult for others, he added.

Leblanc said if the French requirement leads to a drop in enrolment, the government should lower its targets.

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