Quebec’s English-language universities say they will ensure that more out-of-province students graduate with a knowledge of French if the government doesn’t double their tuition.
The heads of McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s universities made the proposal to Quebec Premier François Legault and Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry during a meeting in Montreal on Monday.
They were convened to the meeting after the government recently announced it would increase tuition for out-of-province students to $17,000 from around $9,000 as a way to protect French.
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.
Concordia University president Graham Carr described Monday’s meeting as “constructive” and said he and his colleagues were told the government would respond soon.
In an email to university staff, Concordia University said the plan would include a compulsory French course for out-of-province students, as well as other programs intended to help them integrate into Quebec’s culture and labour market.
Legault’s office said the meeting was private and declined to comment.
However, in a message to Global News, a spokesperson for Déry said the meeting led to “frank discussions” with the heads of the universities “acknowledging that the French language is in decline in the province, especially in Montreal.”
The universities’ willingness to rectify the situation is a “step in the right direction,” wrote Simon Savignac in French.
That being said, however, the government did not appear to be swayed.
“We remain firm on our principles: it is not up to Quebec taxpayers to finance the training of thousands of Canadian students from outside Quebec.”
Savignac maintained the government was willing to continue its discussions with the province’s English universities and reiterated it was willing to find a solution tailored to the specific needs of Bishop’s University.
Last week, hundreds of community leaders from the Eastern Townships rallied behind Bishop’s, demanding the government exempt it from the planned hikes.
They argued the changes would pose an existential threat to the university and would have a negative impact on the region as a whole.
Former Bishop’s Principal Michael Goldbloom, who retired in July, said the university could not afford to lose one-third of its students.
“This is a policy that does not make sense for Bishop’s, doesn’t make sense for the region and in my view doesn’t make sense for Quebec.”
McGill and Concordia also said their institutions would suffer loses in the millions of dollars as a result of the tuition hike and warned it would jeopardize certain programs and lead to a significant loss of jobs.
— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press