Carol-Anne Fraser came to Montreal to pursue graduate studies in music, and the pianist has since made the city her home.
But Fraser — who moved here to study in and learn the French language — worries the recently announced tuition increase for out-of-province students will deter potential students and limit access to post-secondary education overall.
“I feel like I fell in love with the culture, the arts scene, the community that I’ve created here,” she said.
The Alberta native packed up and moved to Ottawa in 2005 for her bachelor’s of music in piano performance. After meeting a teacher she wanted to work with, she opted for a master’s degree in music at the Université de Montréal.
At the beginning, she found work giving piano lessons in English but quickly realized she needed a certain level of French in order to live and work here.
“The opportunity to learn French was really exciting to me and scary at the same time,” Fraser said, adding that while she still makes mistakes, she is now able to work and live in French.
Fraser received her doctorate from Université de Montréal in 2016 and also holds a diploma in collaborative piano from McGill University. When her studies ended, she found a number of reasons to continue building a life here.
In October, the Legault government announced out-of-province tuition 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 students from outside of Quebec than their francophone counterparts. The province will also collect a first $20,000 for each international student and reinvest that money in French-language universities.
The increase in tuition fees has prompted backlash from administrators and students at both English and French universities, while the government defends the plan.
Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry has said the new rates are closer to what it costs Quebec to educate a university student, adding that most out-of-province and international students leave after graduating. The government also says the move will help reverse what officials call a decline of the French language in Montreal.
However, Fraser thinks the increase will be detrimental.
“There is potential talent that could be lost, that could be here staying in Quebec, contributing to the economic, social, cultural life,” Fraser said.
The former student is now a pianist for Opéra de Montréal on a contractual basis. But like other artists, Fraser has many sources of income. She coaches singers and teaches piano — including giving lessons in French. Fraser also works part-time as an arts project co-ordinator at YES Employment and Entrepreneurship, a non-profit and English-language organization that provides support to Quebecers on the job hunt.
“I still continue to do my best with French. Learning a language is like music,” she said, explaining that both require time and effort.
Aside from pursuing her passions, Fraser has made Montreal her home with her francophone partner and found joy in the vibrant local arts community.
“I can’t imagine not being in this city,” Fraser said.
But Fraser isn’t the only one to embrace the city, she says a few of her fellow out-of-province students from the music program at Université de Montréal chose to stay and build a life here.
“The language was part of that,” she adds.
What Fraser is also worried about is that university programs and different career fields could have a difficult time recruiting potential students and workers, especially when it comes to arts and music. It doesn’t feel like a good move for the economy, she added.
“It doesn’t make sense to me and especially knowing that a lot of us do choose to stay,” Fraser said.
For now, the pianist and teacher is quite happy to be here and would “love to stay” in Quebec.
— with files from The Canadian Press