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Taking advantage of the powerless

by Archives October 31, 2001
Tuition hikes for foreign students have been de rigueur at Concordia for the past few years. Last month, the John Molson School of Business decided it would increase its international fees for its popular commerce programs. Meanwhile, the Quebec government ordered universities to raise international tuition for non-privatized programs by 9.1 per cent. The same kinds of hikes are happening elsewhere.
Meanwhile, out-of-province students have also been feeling the crunch the past few years, paying the Canadian average tuition rather than the low tuition offered to Quebec residents.
We should be looking at other ways of raising cash for our post-secondary education system. Milking out-of-province and foreign students for all that we can get is just plain wrong.
These hikes may prove beneficial to the bottom line of our universities, but they may also cause an overseas student’s budget to dive into the red. Over the summer, news reports indicated that the Canadian exchange rate with foreign countries (with the exception of the U.S.) hasn’t been this great in years.
Conversely, our exchange hasn’t been this bad for foreigners in a long time. For them, this is a double whammy: an unfavourable exchange rate coupled with an unexpected increase in fees of more than 9 per cent.
Domestically, Quebec and British Columbia are the only provinces to charge out-of-province students differential fees. One of the arguments is that Quebecers and British Columbians shouldn’t be subsidizing outsiders with their tax dollars. This is short-term thinking. One can only imagine the social
benefits there will be for this province – in taxes and other government
revenues, for example – if out-of-province students decide they want to make Quebec their home at the end of their formal education.
Furthermore, the Canadian constitution states education is supposed to be a service that is accessible to all Canadians, regardless of provincial
boundaries. All provinces should be obliged to respect the mobility of social services.
And while fees for Quebec courses are generally competitive with those offered elsewhere on the continent, even with differential fees factored in, one must keep in mind that some American institutions offer full scholarships that defray 100 per cent of tuition fees, making those programs even more competitive. We should be flattered that some of the best and brightest from outside Quebec consider studying here. We must do our best to keep them here through any means, including the regularization of out-of-province fees with those paid by Quebec
students.
Worst of all, no one can ignore the aura of political cowardice that surrounds differential fees. Essentially, Quebec politicians have nothing to lose by increasing fees for out-of-province and foreign students. A person cannot vote in provincial elections unless they are a permanent resident here. Students from away can’t vote, so they don’t count. They have no voice to politically defend themselves against these fee hikes because it’s not worthwhile for anyone in power to listen to them.
In a best-case scenario, post-secondary education would be as accessible as humanly possible, with nominal tuition fees or none at all, like in some parts of Europe.
Failing that, all students should be treated as equals. If fees are going to be raised, let them be increased for everyone to make it a little fairer. Let’s stop picking on our non-Quebec friends.

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