Novel Quebec tuition proposal draws praise, fire

Youth wing of Liberal party wants to raise tuition—but delay payment until students graduate


Quebec’s provincial Liberal youth wing proposed a solution to the chronic underfunding of the post-secondary system in that province: an across-the-board tuition-fee increase to the national average that students would only need to pay following the completion of their studies.

The proposal was adopted by the youth at a weekend convention in Sherbrooke, Que.

Quebec media picked up on the story quickly. Most of the coverage in English media focused on the “doubling” or “tripling” of tuition fees to meet the apparent national average of $6,000.

Quebec Young Liberal president François Beaudry took issue with this framing of the issue, arguing that while the proposal does increase tuition fees to that average, no student would feel the weight of the increased fees until they could afford to pay through a percentage of their income tax after graduation. While in school, he said, all students would still pay the same tuition—around $2,500.

According to Beaudry, studies have shown Quebec schools are underfunded by more than $350 million a year. The provincial government cannot close that funding gap on its own, said Beaudry, and the responsible move would be for students to do their part.

“The debate was to raise the number to $6,000, and the difference between the $2,500 and $6,000 would be paid through income tax after graduation,” said Beaudry. “We think the user should pay.”

Beaudry said that “the youth is going to pay for the service, for better quality.” And they should, he added, because they are the people benefiting from the post-secondary system.
David Paradis, the president of the Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec, flatly rejected the logic used by the Liberals when they devised the proposal.

“It’s totally irresponsible. They haven’t made any kind of evaluation of the impact it would have. They didn’t evaluate the cost of the implementation,” said Paradis.

He claimed that if the proposal becomes government policy, between 32,000 and 50,000 students who otherwise would have pursued post-secondary studies simply will not. The numbers, he said, are based on a study conducted by Quebec’s Ministry of Education.

FÉUQ would rather see a dedicated federal transfer for post-secondary education fill Quebec’s funding gap. There is a $4-billion shortfall in funding nationally, Paradis said, and $1 billion of that applies to Quebec. He said further that FÉUQ wants all sectors of the province to sit down and create a long-term vision for education in the province, which could include a push for more private donations from university alumni.

Beaudry said that Paradis’ calls for more government funding are short-sighted.

“We shouldn’t think that everything should be paid by the government. And this is what should change in Quebec. Everything is over-funded, everyone is overprotected, and what happens ultimately is you think that everything is due to you,” he said. We’re in a world where there is strong competition … and waiting for the government to do everything is a big problem.”

This is not the first time that Liberal youth in Quebec have proposed for fee increases, as they initially called for a tuition de-freeze in September 2006. Quebec Premier Jean Charest did end the freeze and proposed a $100-a-year increase over five years ending in 2012 as a first step in tackling underfunded schools.

Young Liberals in Quebec hold one-third of the votes at provincial party conventions.

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Novel Quebec tuition proposal draws praise, fire

  1. Gotta pay for it somehow, and making the people who use it pay is a better idea than taxing the public at large.

  2. I would agree with you, if we were talking about institutions which do nothing but teach to students.

    However, the reality is that almost all universities have two main goals: to teach students, and to conduct research. While funding from provincial governments is based on the number of students, it is meant to cross-subsidize the research aspect of the university as well….as it should, since it is not students but society at large that benefits from the research component of a university’s mission.

    The bottom line is this: If students paid for *all* of the operating costs of universities, they would be subsidizing research…research for which they are not the sole beneficiaries. Thus “making users pay” doesn’t really work.

    The right answer is to determine what proportion of the benefits provided by universities accrue directly to students, and what proportion accrue to society at large (including the positive externality of an educated workforce as a whole).

  3. A graduate tax is hardly a “novel” proposal. The Fédération des étudiantes et étudiants du Québec (FÉÉQ), the predecessor organization to the FÉUQ, proposed a graduate tax back in 1990. CASA (Canadian Alliance of Student Associations) proposed a graduate tax in 1995 (see: http://www.peak.sfu.ca/the-peak/95-3/issue4/cup.html).

  4. Would the universities themselves support such a plan? A significant number of students never complete their studies. For every student who drops out the university would lose about 70% of its revenue for the year or two years this student attended. Sure, this seems like a good incentive for universities to keep their students, but I seriously doubt they would accept such uncertainty and lateness in their funding.

    The other question is whether this would really result in a funding increase, or whether the government would just reduce its subsidies to universities by the same amount, in a 1990s Ontario-type scenario.

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