The calamity over Quebec’s tuition hikes has divided students. Residents are understandably up in arms over the hike. Out-of-province students are bitter about the gap that still exists.
Both are right. The implementation of tuition fees in Quebec is overly simplistic, and fails to acknowledge that Quebec students and institutions are one of the most diverse in Canada. Each institution has unique aims, and one blanket tuition fee for the entire province isn’t an adequate solution.
Quebec residents pay the lowest tuition fees in the country. Full-time students who are residents pay around $2,168 a year in tuition, while an out-of-province student pays about $5,866 a year – more than double. According to a Macleans OnCampus post from earlier this year, tuition fees for Quebec residents will now rise by $325 a year, over five years, beginning in fall 2012. This will increase tuition to $3,793 per year for Quebec residents, a rate that is still substantially lower than the fees for out-of-province students.
University heads have been calling for the increase for years. In 2003, the Quebec conference of university rectors and principals (CREPUQ) released a statement saying, “Quebec universities would require an amount of $375 million to reach their competitive ability compared to universities in the other provinces.”
Underfunding in Quebec has made universities less competitive, according to Denis Brière, chair of the CREPUQ board of directors. Increased funding is necessary for Quebec universities to “attract the best students and have a high quality curriculum.”
Most importantly, Brière said appropriate funding is necessary for attracting national and international students, one of CREPUQ’s priorities. Universities like McGill and Concordia receive many non-Quebec and foreign students and compete directly with other institutions across North America. They do not have the same mission as other Quebec institutions, like the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, which focuses on attracting French and resident students, according to a 2004 study by the Montreal Economic Institute.
Herein lies Quebec’s unique dilemma. Quebec’s blanket tuition for all “residents” is a problematic system, firstly because Quebec residency and the resident tuition are arbitrarily determined. As the system is now, anyone who was born in Quebec – including those who have spent most of their lives living elsewhere in Canada – can still take advantage of the cheap tuition rates and attend a Quebec university, even a big, internationally competitive one like McGill or Universite de Montreal.
This hardly seems fair for the smaller francophone universities who don’t compete on the same national and international level. A cheaper tuition rate for these universities is justifiable in this context.
The tuition fees that are mandated across the board for all Quebec institutions fail to address the unique aims and needs of each university. Quebec universities should have the choice of whether to impose higher fees based on the mandate, but also on the mission they set for themselves.