McGill University officials painted a dire picture Thursday of the impact already being felt by the institution over the government’s planned tuition hike for out-of-province students.
In October, Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry announced fees for Canadian students from other provinces would jump from $8,992 to $17,000 starting in fall, 2024.
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.
Speaking to reporters in Montreal on Thursday, McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini said applications are already down 20 per cent compared to the same time last year.
“It is a catastrophic drop in applications,” he said.
Officials estimate the university could lose between $42 million and $94 million per year depending on how the measures impact the recruitment of students.
“So it’s an ongoing loss,” Saini said.
To make matters worse, Moody’s announced Wednesday that McGill’s rating was under review for a downgrade, placing the university in a catch-22 situation.
“We’re looking at potentially a large loss in revenue to the university so that decreases our ability to repay debt and if indeed our credit rating goes down, it will decrease our ability to borrow,” said Deputy Provost Fabrice Lebeau.
“So these two things together are compounding each other.”
Saini warned that increased borrowing costs will make the university’s current and future infrastructure projects all the more challenging.
“Given the size of just our infrastructure projects that verge on a billion dollars, at this point we are looking at tens of millions of dollars damage to McGill,” he said.
A drop in credit rating Saini said, would have repercussions for the government as well.
“Some of these projects are funded by the Quebec government,” he said.
An example of a major infrastructure project underway is the transformation of the old Royal Victoria Hospital into a world-class research facility.
“That single project is worth $870 million, Saini said. “And as you know, costs are escalating as it is and rising borrowing costs would challenge it further.”
While there are no immediate plans to cancel the project, Saini said it might change in scope.
At the beginning of the month, however, McGill announced an immediate hiring freeze in a bid to cap expenses.
“The goal of this measure is to reduce the number of employees in the short-term through attrition rather than cutting positions held by current members of our workforce,” wrote provost and vice-president Christopher Manfredi, in an email to staff
Manfredi warned that further “extraordinary measures ” would be necessary in the future if the government were to move forward with “any version thus far proposed of its plan.”
The government has defended the plan to hike tuition fees for out-of-province students, arguing the French language is under threat in Quebec, especially in Montreal.
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But according to Saini, the government has yet to respond to a proposal put forth by the province’s three English-language universities over a month ago.
The universities said they would ensure that more out-of-province students graduate with a knowledge of French if the government backed down on doubling their tuition.
“We haven’t heard anything directly from them,” Saini said.
He insists, however, that the university will continue to reach out to the government, despite “not seeing any willingness on the part of the government to sit down and actually have a meaningful discussion.”
Concordia University, for its part, is in a situation similar to McGill’s.
Moody’s is looking at possibly downgrading its credit rating and applications for out-of-province students has declined by 16 per cent compared to the same time last year.
In a statement to Global News, president and vice-chancellor, Graham Carr, says the government’s announcement has led to confusion for prospective students — something the university remains concerned about.
“For this reason, and given it’s now two months since the initial announcement, we have asked Minister Déry to delay raising fees until the fall of 2025,” Carr said.
Global News has reached out to Déry’s office for comment, but has yet to hear back.