Last updated: September 14, 2010 5:49 pm
McGill calls for 'substantial' tuition increase
Students demand education minister protect Quebec's subsidized system
MONTREAL (CUP) — McGill University administrators used a routine presentation before a provincial committee to criticize the way the province funds universities and regulates tuition.
“If the government of Quebec wants our universities to be able to continue to compete with the best universities in Canada, it must give us the tools,” Pierre Moreau, an executive director and senior adviser for McGill, told Quebec’s national assembly education and culture committee on Sept. 7.
Administrators from Quebec’s 17 universities began appearing before the committee in mid-August. While the subject of tuition and funding came up in most of the presentations, which occur every three years, the majority focused on strategic plans, general information about the universities and the schools’ achievements in surveys and international rankings.
McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum called for a “substantial increase” in tuition and the introduction of different tuition rates for different programs.
“Through their taxes, low-income families finance the university education of young people from more affluent families,” she said. “Moreover, despite its low tuition, Quebec still has one of the lowest university attendance and graduation rates in Canada. It is therefore clear that accessibility to a university education for a greater number of people does not come from maintaining low tuition.”
Munroe-Blum said she’d like to see more financial aid at the institutional level to offset the impact of increased tuition for low-income students.
Guy Breton, Université de Montréal rector, echoed McGill’s concerns during his university’s presentation.
“Only a university whose programs cost less than the average is able to generate a surplus of revenue over expenditure,” he said.
Breton also called for a tuition increase and differentiated tuition. According to Breton, a student studying literature pays 40 per cent of the cost of their education, while a student in veterinary medicine pays only five per cent.
Breton said that if the province doesn’t increase tuition, universities will have to find other ways, such as ancillary fees, to get more money.
“Beware, if you do not give us the means, we will continue to be resourceful,” he told the committee.
But while most university heads agreed that their schools need more money, the solutions put forward by McGill and UdeM didn’t sit well with some. “We need to train our people. We need doctors who come from backgrounds that are not rich,” said Claude Corbo, rector at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
He added that while some disciplines lead to higher incomes after graduation, those graduates would pay higher taxes.
Munroe-Blum defended McGill’s decision to increase tuition for its executive MBA. Tuition in the program, which will no longer receive government funding, increased from just under $2,000 to $29,500 this year.
Munroe-Blum says the program costs $22,000 per student, but the school only received $10,000 per student in funding and tuition. She said McGill had been paying the difference by cutting funding for undergraduate arts and sciences.
“Graduates of this MBA program, in their first three years after their graduation, make more than $100,000, $300,000, $400,000 or $500,000 per year in compensation. It just simply wasn’t fair, it wasn’t equitable.”
Under heavy questioning from Marie Malavoy, the Parti Quebecois education critic, Monroe-Blum struggled to speak in French, frequently switching to English.
While questions from government members focused on the number of PhDs graduating from McGill and the university’s distance education program, Malavoy took several opportunities to criticize Munroe-Blum’s position, saying that Quebec’s system, where the government pays the majority of the cost of a university education, was a choice Quebecers could be proud of.
McGill has also faced criticism from student groups. In a joint statement the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the province’s largest student lobby group, and McGill’s post-graduate students’ society called for education minister Line Beauchamp to take action against the MBA tuition increase.
"By privatizing the MBA program, the principal of McGill is closing the door to people who have the intellectual ability to pursue university studies and who would benefit greatly from the courses offered at McGill. Is this her ideal for university education?" Ryan Hughes, post-graduate students’ society vice-president, said in a press release on Sept. 7.
Beauchamp, who does not sit on the education and culture committee, took over as education minister in an Aug. 11 cabinet shuffle. She has yet to make a public statement on the increase.
Her predecessor, Michelle Courchesne, had threatened to cut funding from McGill equal to the amount of the tuition increase.