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The Quebec Tuition Reductions Do Not Help Anyone

Photo Credit : Carla Mavaddat

Inflation can be a funny thing and sometimes the decisions regarding it are not clear. On the one hand, inflation can save billions of dollars, as with the lower Churchill Falls project in whichQuebecpays theprovinceofNewfoundland1968 prices until 2041 – a deal that is favoured of theQuebecpopulace.  In stark contrast, theQuebecuniversity tuition freezes (which have been in place for 33 of the past 44 years) have come under fire lately and may finally be coming into accords with modern day prices.

Presently,Quebec’s tuition is the lowest inCanadaand is scheduled to be increased by $325 per year until 2017.  Once all the new fees have come into accordQuebecstudents will be paying $3 793 versus the current $2 168.  This increase may at first seem overwhelming, but when taking into account the average Canadian tuition fee of over $5 000, $3 793 is fairly reasonable by comparison.

According to the Canadian News Wire the fundamental values ofQuebecare accessibility, fairness, excellence and effectiveness.

The low tuition forQuebecstudents occurred mainly for two reasons.  The first reason was that in 1996 theQuebecgovernment wanted to eliminate the deficit that had long been accumulating inQuebec.  When rumours about a possible tuition increase reached the ears ofQuebecstudents they went on a pre-emptive three week strike.  In response, the government decided to freeze tuition at the 1994 levels of $1 668 for residents ofQuebec.

The second reason for the low tuition rate is because theQuebecgovernment previously believed that lower fees would encourage more students to attend university.  Keeping in line with its core values, theQuebecgovernment wanted to maintain a system of post-secondary education that would be fair and accessible to all.

One of the main arguments that proponents of the tuition increase use when they argue in favour of the increases is that the heavily reduced rates do not actually encourage students to attend university.  This point is argued because there is no evidence to suggest that the reduced rates actually encourage students to attend university. In 2004,Nova Scotia’s in-province tuition fees were $5 557 whileQuebec’s were only $1 862.  However, the full time university enrolment of students aged 20-21 was 33% inNova Scotiawhile only 20% inQuebec. This is not the only physical evidence suggesting that the reduced fees do not accomplish their intended goal. According to a Statistics Canada study of students not attending university, only 26% choose not to attend for financial reasons, while 20% state that they do not attend because they want to take a break from schooling.

WithQuebecuniversities dealing with a sizable deficit and with low tuition not achieving its attended goal, the time for a tuition increase is definitely right. According to the Canadian University Press, in the 1960’s, a student’s tuition represented 26% of all revenue by universities, inQuebec.  By contrast, in 2008, it was only 13%.

The fact of the matter remains thatQuebecstudents are simply not contributing to the revenues of universities as they previously did.  This phenomenon is hurting all aspects ofQuebecsociety.

According toMacleans,Quebecuniversities presently are dealing with a 400 million dollar deficit. Naturally, the tuition freezes are one of the main causes for the deficit due to the reduced fees.

According to Quebec Finance Minster Raymond Bachand,Quebec’s tuition fees needs to be increased in order forQuebecuniversities to be world class.  It’s very hard to be a world class university when the university system is facing a massive deficit and must decide which programs to keep and which to scrap.

With their significant underfunding, universities cannot be competitive on a national and international level.  International research universities like McGill cannot continue to fund expensive experiments without increasing their resources.  Coupling an increase in government funding with an increase in the tuition rates is a fairly easy way to generate revenue.  Furthermore, the idea of raising tuition fees is even more sensible, when one takes into account that the tuition fees are already the lowest in the country.

Currently, the low tuition rates are not helping the intended benefactors tuition freeze – students of low socioeconomic standing. In fact, it is the wealthier students who are benefitting from the tuition subsidies.

According to the origination Free EducationMontreal, theQuebectaxpayers are the ones who are largely paying for the wealthier people, inQuebec, to go to school.  Typically, people in a lower socioeconomic class are less likely to attend university than wealthier people.

Along with tuition increases, the government is planning to increase student aid. According to the Canadian University Press, theQuebecgovernment proposed a budget that raises tuition and creates an extra 118 million dollars for student bursaries and scholarships for low income students.

While the reduced tuition rates did not help theQuebecfundamental values of fairness and accessibility as they intended, an increase in tuition would help the other two values: excellence and effectiveness.

This past semesterMcGillUniversity’s non-academic staff union, MUNACA, has been on strike arguing for equal pay.  They argue that they are underpaid when compared to their counterparts at otherQuebecuniversities and other universities throughoutCanada.  An increase in tuition would lead to an increase in revenues for McGill which could potentially lead to a resolution of the strike.

–  Robert Hirsch

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