WORLD NEWS Quebec moves ahead with anglo university tuition hike, French...

Quebec moves ahead with anglo university tuition hike, French requirements


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Pleas from Concordia and McGill universities have fallen on deaf ears.

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A plan announced Thursday by the Quebec government will have a “devastating” impact on McGill, the university says.

Deep Saini, McGill’s president, is scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday afternoon, at which he is expected to plead with Premier François Legault to reverse the decision.

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The appeal will come after Quebec announced that it is moving ahead with a tuition plan English universities say will lead to a steep decline in the enrolment of students from the rest of Canada and other countries.

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In a letter sent to the heads of the province’s three English universities Thursday morning, Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry said the province will:

  • Set tuition rates for students from other provinces at $12,000, as of fall 2024. That’s 33 per cent more than they currently pay. The government’s initial plan, announced in October, would have almost doubled the out-of-province rate, to $17,000.
  • Require 80 per cent of students from outside Quebec studying in the province to reach an intermediate level of French by the time they graduate, as of fall 2025. There are currently no French requirements in Quebec universities.

Déry told the leaders of Bishop’s, Concordia and McGill the changes will achieve several objectives.

The funding of English and French universities will be more fairly balanced, she said. And the changes will decrease the amount spent subsidizing the education of students from the rest of Canada. In addition, the plan will help preserve the French language, Déry said.

Bishop’s will be given a partial exemption. Up to 825 students from other provinces will be allowed to continue to pay the old tuition rate.

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The English universities say the government’s plan will drive away students, devastating their finances. They say the tuition hike will repel students from the rest of Canada.

At $12,000, the cost of tuition for students from other provinces will be about twice what is charged in arts and sciences programs at such institutions as the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

As for francizing students, the universities have said 40 per cent was a reasonable goal. But 80 per cent will require many students to spend an extra semester in university, McGill says. A student arriving from another country with no knowledge of French would require “240 hours of courses or something like 18 university credits” of French classes, the university said.

Students will be required to reach Level 5 of the Échelle québécoise. There are 12 levels in that French proficiency scale. Levels 5 to 8 are intermediate.

Concordia president Graham Carr said he is “profoundly disappointed” by the decision. It will hurt his university’s finances, shrink the size of its student body and hurt Quebec’s reputation, he said in an interview.

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Carr decried the lack of consultation with anglophone institutions and the fact that the government ignored compromise proposals by English universities, one of which suggested a 40-per-cent French proficiency target.

He said he’s “baffled” by the government’s 80-per-cent target, describing it as “completely unrealistic.”

The English universities’ proposals were made “in a spirit of partnership,” but there was no reciprocation from the government, Carr said.

That was recognized by the many critics of the government’s plan.

“It isn’t just the case of the government not listening to Concordia and McGill,” Carr said. “They’re not listening to Montreal (Mayor Valérie Plante), they’re not listening to the business community. And they’re not listening to many ardent francophone nationalists, who understood what a real turning point it was for the three universities to come forward with the proposition we had on francization.”

Carr said it’s too early to say whether the university will have to cut staffing or reduce the number of programs it offers. He said the school is looking at several scenarios, but they will depend on how damaging the changes are to recruitment efforts.

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Bishop’s said it was pleased with its exemption.

“This positive outcome for Bishop’s would not have been possible without the unwavering support of leaders of the Eastern Townships community,” Bishop’s principal Sébastien Lebel-Grenier said in a statement.

He thanked “francophone leaders who have come out unequivocally in support of Bishop’s. They were able to convince the Quebec government that we and the students we welcome to campus from the rest of Canada are not a threat to the French language, but rather an essential part of what makes our region unique.”

McGill and Concordia say the university overhaul could cost them more than $150 million in annual revenue. Both have announced hiring freezes, and Concordia last month told departments to cut budgets by 7.8 per cent.

McGill, which has said it may have to cut up to 700 jobs, has said it has not ruled out moving some operations to or setting up a branch in another province such as Ontario.

In the weeks after the original tuition plan was announced, critics described it as misguided and harmful. Critics included Mayor Valérie Plante, federal Liberal ministers and provincial Liberal MNAs, and the Quebec Community Groups Network and a coalition of 40 anglophone groups.

Five high-profile French universities, including the Université de Montréal, also came out against the plan, as did the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal and the Conseil du patronat, Quebec’s largest employer’s group with 70,000 members.

Among those supportive of the government’s plan were the Parti Québécois and the heads of 10 francophone post-secondary institutions — all part of the Université du Québec network.

This story will be updated.

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