MONTREAL (CUP) 8212; The heads of Quebec’s universities are calling for tuition to increase by just over $1,500 starting in 2012.
According to the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities, tuition increases 8212; along with increased funding from the provincial government and the private sector 8212; are necessary to raise the level of university funding in the province to the national average.
In a report released on Dec. 2, the group says that Quebec universities are under-financed by $620 million when compared to the national average.
The report comes less than a week before a major consultation between the provincial government, students, faculty and universities. In last spring’s provincial budget the government called for tuition to increase further in 2012. The tuition increase will be one of the main topics of discussion at the Dec. 6 meeting.
Under funding has made Quebec’s universities less competitive said Denis BriÃ¨re, chair of the CREPUQ Board of Directors and rector of UniversitÃ© Laval.
“We don’t have the capacity to attract top notch professors and researchers,” he said. “There is an urgency because we have less and less access to research funds from the granting agencies.”
CREPUQ is calling for a tuition increase to be phased in over three years; it would bring fees in the province to $3,680.
While BriÃ¨re acknowledged that the increase was a “little bit sharp,” he said that he thinks students can afford it.
Tuition fees in Quebec were frozen at $1,668 between 1994 and 2007. Since then, they have risen by $50 a semester. Quebec’s tuition fees are currently the lowest in Canada.
The proposed hike would still leave tuition fees in the province below the national average, $5,138 a year for undergraduates, according to Statistics Canada.
Because of the long periods of frozen tuition, fees haven’t kept up with the pace of inflation, according to CREPUQ. BriÃ¨re said students are now paying less than they were in 1968, when the province first regulated fees.
“We don’t understand why students can’t pay the amount that I paid when I went to school,” said BriÃ¨re.
But student groups disagree.
“The impact the proposal of the CREPUQ will have is to take Quebec back 45 years. At that time, only the children of rich families could hope to go to university,” said Louis-Philippe Savoie, president of the FÃ©dÃ©ration Ã©tudiante universitaire du QuÃ©bec, in a press release issued in French on Dec. 2. “We have made great strides in terms of accessibility to studies and the CREPUQ, through its proposal, wants to completely erase what has made Quebec universities successful.”
Earlier this month, FÃ‰UQ, Quebec’s largest student lobby group, released a survey showing that over 50 per cent of full-time students live on less than $12,200 a year.
CREPUQ is calling for 25 per cent of the funds from any tuition increase to be used for needs-based financial aid and want the government to look at “the possibility of establishing an income-based mechanism for the repayment of student loans.”
Student groups have also questioned comparisons of Quebec universities to schools in other provinces and the United States.
“We have to stop comparing ourselves blindly with our neighbours,” said Savoie.
BriÃ¨re acknowledged that “it’s difficult to compare ourselves,” adding that, “we were careful to compare apples to apples.”
According to BriÃ¨re, increased funding is necessary for Quebec universities to “attract the best students and have a high quality curriculum.” He said it was especially important for attracting international students, one of CREPUQ’s priorities.
“If the value of a [Quebec] diploma is perceived as being less than in the rest of Canada … then we will have a very hard time.”
Major protests have been planned in Quebec City to coincide with the Dec. 6 meeting, which have been widely criticized as window dressing by student and labour groups. While FÃ‰UQ has organized protests against the meeting, they will be participating. Quebec’s second-largest student lobby group, the Association pour une solidaritÃ© syndicale Ã©tudiante, has said they will boycott the event.