Quebec’s latest tuition plan puts English universities ‘under attack,’ McGill says

Click to play video: 'Quebec confirms tuition hike for English universities, but spares Bishop’s University'
Quebec confirms tuition hike for English universities, but spares Bishop’s University
WATCH: Non-Quebec students will have to pay more in tuition starting in 2024 -- but not as much as initially planned. There is another catch: out-of-province students enrolled in English universities will have to learn French. Global’s Felicia Parrillo explains. – Dec 14, 2023

The Quebec government is moving forward with its contentious plan to raise tuition for out-of-province students and will impose a new French-language requirement.

Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry announced the latest measures Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter. She published a letter sent to the province’s English-language universities, but declined a request for comment.

The government will raise tuition to around $12,000 per year for out-of-province students — a 33 per cent increase from the current rate — starting in the 2024-2025 academic year. It’s a step back from the previous plan to charge $17,000.

But while the increase isn’t as steep as once expected, out-of-province students at McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s universities will have to learn French.

Under the new plan, 80 per cent of non-Quebec students in an English-language undergraduate program will have to have an intermediate Level 5 knowledge of spoken French by the end of their degree.

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In announcing the new measures, Déry says the government wants Canadian and foreign graduates to better integrate in Quebec society.

“We believe that these adjustments will allow the entire university network to fully play its role in the protection, promotion and enhancement of the French language in Quebec,” Déry said.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, McGill University President and Vice Chancellor Deep Saini called the new measures “devastating” and “far worse” than those announced by the minister on Oct. 13.

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He accused the government of making “incoherent” policy decisions based on “impressions and emotions, rather than evidence-based decision making.”

Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau expanded on the topic, explaining that the government’s 80-per cent target for students to learn French was “completely unrealistic from a technical and academic” standpoint.

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To achieve that level of fluency for students without any prior knowledge of French would require at least one additional semester of school, according to Labeau.

This, he said, would affect the recruitment not only of out-of-province students but of international students as well.

That, according to Labeau, would interfere with the government’s plan of recouping $5,000 per international student to redistribute within the Quebec university network.

The money, Labeau said, “just won’t be there.”

The university also isn’t happy with the tuition increase for out-of-province students.

Labeau noted that even at $12,000, the fee is more than double what students would pay at the University of Toronto or University of British Colombia for most disciplines.

Students, Labeau said, will not be able to afford studying in Quebec.

And it’s not only the university that stands to lose but the Quebec economy as a whole, he said.

“You’ll deprive Quebec of qualified workers at a time when it is grappling with a labour shortage,” Labeau said.

He added it won’t take long for the economic impacts to be felt in Montreal, where students spend money on lodging, in restaurants and other local businesses.

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Labeau pointed to a 2019-2020 study by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, showing that out-of-province students in the city injected $427 million per year in the province’s GDP.

The university has already seen a 20-per cent drop in applications and implemented a hiring freeze to mitigate the impacts.

Saini said the university is exploring all its options moving forward, but is not considering moving out of Quebec.

“We are going to look far and wide at what options are available to McGill to protect this institution against this very serious attack by our own government.”

Concordia University’s president Graham Carr had many of the same complaints.

He criticized the lack of consultation with anglophone institutions, and the fact that the government ignored compromises proposed by English universities last month, which suggested a 40-per cent French proficiency target.

“Eighty per cent, where did that number come from? What is that based on? I have no idea,” Carr said.

“It’s completely unrealistic, in our view and in the view of the other universities, as an objective to attain.”

Current students feel the same.

One Ontario student currently attending McGill told Global News that if she were to apply now based on the new rules,  she would not have come.

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“On top of all of the work load that we already get, it’s hard to learn a language. I had to do it in high school and it’s not easy for some people.”

Meanwhile, the government has made some allowances for Bishop’s University, a small English-language university in the Eastern Townships. It will be able to charge the current tuition rate of $8,992 to 825 out-of-province students.

Bishop’s must also set out the same French-language requirement as its counterparts, but Déry says its funding won’t be contingent on meeting that target.

In a statement on its website, Bishop’s welcomed the “momentous news.” It also confirmed the exemption means there will be “no tuition increase” for Canadian students at its university — which make up nearly 30 per cent of its 2,900 students.

“This is really part of our identity and it’s really part of the unique experience we offer our students,” said Bishop’s principal Sébastien Lebel-Grenier in a video posted to social media.

“So we’re very happy to welcome you on campus next year.”

That being said, Lebel-Grenier, told Global News he was still worried.

“Overall we still feel that these measures are bad for Quebec and I remain concerned how they will affect McGill and Concordia,” he said.

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with files from The Canadian Press

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