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Quebec premier defends out-of-province tuition hike: ‘It’s reasonable’

Quebec Premier François Legault responds to the Opposition during question period, Friday, December 8, 2023 at the legislature in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec Premier François Legault says it’s important to him that McGill University remains in Quebec.

Legault made the comment on Friday, a day after McGill principal and vice-chancellor Deep Saini said the university wouldn’t rule out any options to mitigate the impact of the government’s planned tuition hike for out-of-province students, including moving part of its operations elsewhere.

“McGill has been in Quebec for over 200 years now, our presence in Montreal, our relationship with Montreal our relationship to Quebec is a very distinctive feature of what McGill is,” Saini said. “That said, as a university president I have the responsibility … to make sure that one of the greatest universities in the world remains one of the greatest universities in the world.”

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.

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The government has defended the plan to double tuition fees for Canadians from other provinces, arguing the French language is under threat in Quebec, especially in Montreal.

Saini spoke to reporters in Montreal on Thursday, outlining the dire economic consequences set in motion by the announcement.

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He spoke of a ‘catastrophic’ 20 per cent drop in applications from out-of-province students and an estimated lose of between $42 million and $94 million per year.

Click to play video: 'McGill University sounds alarm after out-of-province applications drop by 20%'
McGill University sounds alarm after out-of-province applications drop by 20%

The university will also be looking at increased borrowing costs if Moody’s downgrades its credit rating, which will lead to ballooning costs for current and future infrastructure projects.

Saini explained how the tuition hike will ultimately hurt the Quebec economy by threatening the university’s ability to attract investors.

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The university has already announced a hiring freeze to cap expenses and warned of more severe impacts, unless the government backs down.

That is something Legault does not appear willing to do.

“It’s important for me to keep McGill in Quebec and I think that what we are asking for is reasonable,” Legault said Friday. “We have to stop seeing French going down in Montreal so we need their help. They are open to give French lessons so Pascale continues discussion with McGill and Concordia.”

McGill, however, says that the government has not shown a willingness to sit down and have a serious discussion.

Saini noted Thursday that the government has yet to respond to a proposal submitted over a month ago by the province’s three English-language universities regarding plans to ensure students graduate with a knowledge of French.

Click to play video: 'Petition presented to stop Quebec’s plan to hike university tuition'
Petition presented to stop Quebec’s plan to hike university tuition

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