Quebec: Cheap degrees, but nobody’s buying -

Quebec: Cheap degrees, but nobody’s buying

Students can’t blame tuition fees for low enrolment


Photo by Graham Hughes/CP

Clearly, 1969 was a great year to be going to university in Quebec. The province was in the process of detaching itself from its church-dominated past, priming the demand for an educated class. Prospective university students could also take heart in knowing that, because of a tuition freeze that year, they would pay $500 a year throughout their studies.

Having been in effect for 32 of the past 43 years, the tuition freeze has been as enduring as it is economical. As a result, students today are getting an even better bargain than their forebears. A Quebec resident attending university today pays $1,968 a year—or just $311 in 1969 dollars. And as the months-long student boycott of universities across the province shows, low tuition is something of a sacred cow here, like cheap electricity and beer at the dépanneur. The student movement says the provincial government’s plans to increase tuition to $3,793 will hinder access to higher education.

Yet, as enduring as it has been, the tuition freeze has done little to increase university enrolment in the province. According to a study published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, about 30 per cent of Quebec’s young people go to university, six percentage points below the Canadian average and more than 20 percentage points behind Atlantic Canada, where the average tuition is nearly three times that in Quebec. For Ross Finnie, the University of Ottawa economics professor and author of the study, part of the problem of low university enrolment is rooted in Quebec’s history. According to the study, young people are more likely to go to university if their parents did the same, regardless of family income; in Quebec, there are simply fewer university-trained parents. “The intergenerational transition is the single most important factor in determining who goes to college and university,” Finnie says. In Quebec, “there’s less understanding of the benefits of going to university. There’s no appreciation that it’s an investment.” The problem apparently begins before university; Quebec has one of the highest high-school dropout rates in the country. Among male Quebec francophones, for whom the problem is particularly acute, one in four drops out of high school before completion, according to education ministry statistics. “We find in our data that male francophones in Quebec, but not outside Quebec, are a group at risk with respect to high secondary-school dropout rates and low education attainment,” Finnie says.

“It’s kind of ironic,” he adds. “The student groups are committed to social justice, yet they reduce the problem to simple affordability when it’s so much more complex. There’s not much evidence that people aren’t going to university because of financial considerations.”

There are bright spots for Quebec. As in the rest of the country, high-school dropout rates have slowly but steadily fallen over the past decade. Completion rates are higher than the Canadian average among students who do go to university. As well, attendance rates for CEGEPs, Quebec’s two- or three-year post-secondary college system, are relatively high. Yet when it comes to getting more rear ends into university classes, it seems Quebec’s 40-year experiment with low tuition fees has hardly been the success that certain striking university students would like to think.

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Quebec: Cheap degrees, but nobody’s buying

  1. What about Quebec’s high dropout rate? We’re 5 points below the national average in highschool graduates, is this a factor you considered?

  2. Also, university degrees are generally shorter in Quebec and students more often choose to enroll in certificates instead of baccalaureates.

  3. Comparing university enrolment rate between Quebec and the ROC is pointless since Québec has a CEGEP system. Techical CEGEP graduates (3 year program) aren’t dropouts or slackers and most have really good jobs. I’m sure a few of those jobs would required a university degree in the ROC.

  4. I was born and raise in Quebec. In the school system of Quebec, they don’t encourage the completion of high school advance 10 and 11 math and science. I remember when I was in high school, the school was telling me I only needed the basic math and science and was never encourage to go into the advance subjects. How should I know that I would need those advance core courses to applied to Universities in Quebec. I then applied to Ontario Universities which I got accepted to 4 of them. Quebec Universities should not be so difficult to get into. Also, I will like to point out, that Quebec focus on trade jobs instead of jobs that need a University degree. Maybe that is why most males in high school drop out because they can get a job in the trade field earning the same amount of money as a person with a degree.