Quebec’s plan to nearly double tuition for out-of-province students sparked a rally in downtown Montreal on Monday, with students pouring in from outside the city to protest.
Many participants at the protest, which stretched the length of two city blocks, wore purple, the colour of Bishop’s University, in Sherbrooke, Que., the province’s only English-language university outside Montreal.
Alex O’Neill, a second-year student at McGill University who helped organize the protest, said students, teachers and universities were not consulted about the increase for the 2024-2025 academic year.
“We’re absolutely prepared, tentatively, to challenge this,” O’Neill said, if the government’s tuition increase goes ahead as planned. “We’re not going to give up since we have so much momentum.”
The Quebec government announced earlier this month that tuition for students from other provinces will rise to $17,000 from $8,992 starting next year. The changes are expected to disproportionately affect the province’s three English-language universities, which welcome more out-of-province students than their francophone counterparts.
Under the plan, Quebec will also collect a first $20,000 for each international student and reinvest that money in French-language universities.
Provincial government officials say the tuition hike would help correct an imbalance between the French and English university networks, and end subsidies for Canadians who come to Quebec for university and leave when they complete their studies. They also claim the changes will help counter the decline of the French language in Montreal.
For Sarah Jewett, a student in international studies and politics at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que., it was important to make the trip to Montreal.
As an out-of-province student who is originally from Ottawa, she worries the increase will put education in Quebec out of reach for some of her fellow Canadians. Jewett says if she were applying to Bishop’s now, she wouldn’t be able to “really justify paying double to go out of province.”
“It’s the longevity of Bishop’s that will be affected by that and I want to show support for other incoming students that want to come to universities in Quebec.”
All three English universities — McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s — have voiced concerns about the hike and how it will impact their finances. McGill also postponed a $50-million investment over five years into its French program after the province’s announcement.
Last week, the heads of French-language universities criticized the increase in an open letter, saying “any measure that would put the very existence of a university at risk, or weaken it to the point of impairing it, must be excluded from the discussion.”
Quebec Premier François Legault stood by the increase in fees when asked about the protest Monday, saying the proposal is reasonable. He also said he’s willing to meet with the universities’ principals, but that his goal of reversing the decline of French in Quebec is “non-negotiable.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry says she’s in touch with the affected universities and will find a solution for Bishop’s particular case.
The principal of Bishop’s, which is a small university with under 3,000 full-time students, has said the financial impact could be “catastrophic” since nearly 30 per cent of students come from other provinces and territories.
— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press