On Campus

Bouchard to Quebec--raise tuition!

Universities at 'critical stage' in under-financing

A prominent group of Quebecers says the province needs to hike tuition fees. The group includes former premier Lucien Bouchard–whose Parti Quebecois government froze tuition a decade-and-a-half ago at the lowest rates in Canada. But now Bouchard says universities are in trouble.

He and a group of other prominent Quebecers signed a declaration Tuesday calling for an increase in university tuition. “Quebec universities are dangerously under-funded compared with those in Canada and North America,” Bouchard told a news conference. “These precarious finances have now reached a critical stage. If nothing is done, it’s students themselves who will suffer first. “And surely, inevitably, so will all of Quebec society.”

Other signatories included former Liberal finance ministers Michel Audet and Monique Jerome-Forget.

Any hint of tuition hikes has, in the past, triggered a vigorous backlash and had Quebec students out in the streets protesting. But the debate has now been relaunched as Quebec, like almost every other jurisdiction in the world, struggles with a considerable dilemma: how to balance its budget without decimating services, or hiking taxes.

Some see a bump in user fees as the only solution.

Quebec undergraduates pay roughly $1,700 a year in tuition – barely one-third what students pay in other provinces. Several universities–including Montreal’s McGill–have repeatedly called it a lousy public policy that leads to worse schools and forces poorer students to subsidize education for richer ones.

But its defenders call higher education a right and note that some jurisdictions have actually scrapped tuition altogether.

The current economic climate could place Quebec’s longstanding no-hike policy under unprecedented attack. Not only were two former finance ministers in the Charest government present at Tuesday’s event; the current finance minister, Raymond Bachand, has hinted broadly at increased user fees in a variety of areas. In a speech this week, Bachand called for what he described as a “cultural revolution” in the way Quebecers pay for services.

He used the example of motorcyclists–who pay more than drivers for a licence because, per capita, they use more health services than motorists and cost the treasury more.

Quebecers also pay less for electricity and have $7-a-day day care. But the province also has the highest personal-income taxes in Canada, and will be looking for ways to trim $3.9 billion in spending without hiking taxes.

The Canadian Press