Quebec universities agree they need more money

They don't agree on where it should come from

Last week, the culture and education committee of Quebec’s National Assembly released their report on a series of presentations by university heads that took place in late August and early September.

The heads of Quebec’s 18 universities are required to appear before the committee every three years. For the most part the presentations, and their accompanying reports, focus on things like student population, the number of professors, new programs and research accomplishments. However, this year’s presentations were marked by calls from McGill, Concordia and Université de Montréal for tuition hikes.

Because the report is the product of a multi-party committee, the few recommendations it does present are rather vague. More often the committee says it hopes that solutions can be found to the problems facing Quebec’s universities but stops short of making recommendations. But there are some interesting things in the report.

The committee found that there was a “strong consensus” from university directors that Quebec’s university system is under-funded and that this is making it difficult for them to do their jobs properly.

However university administrators are divided on where that money should come from. While some suggested tuition hikes, others disagreed, calling for more government funding or private sector involvement. The issue of accessibility also came up frequently in connection with discussions of tuition. All of the directors agreed that accessibility is important but they disagree on how to ensure it and how it relates to tuition increases.

While the director of HEC Montreal, Michel Patry, said that ensuring accessibility shouldn’t get in the way of ensuring long term quality, the director of the École nationale de l’administration public, Marcel Proulx, told the committee that the issue of accessibility is inseparable from tuition.

The issue of differentiated tuition also came up, currently all provincially-funded university programs in Quebec charge the same tuition fees, and again there was no consensus. Even among the universities calling for tuition increases there wasn’t total support for differentiated fees, with former Concordia president, Judith Woodsworth calling them “risky” and “dangerous.”

The only recommendation made by the committee in relation to finances was a call for Ottawa to increase funding for the indirect costs of research, things like lab maintenance and ensuring safety standards.

The committee called for the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities, a lobby group that represents all the universities in the province, to develop standardized performance indicators for universities.

As well, the committee recommended that universities make efforts to encourage people to stay in school at the high school and CEGEP levels as well as once they enter university.

And, this being Quebec, language also came up. At issue is the fact that some French-language schools are providing courses in English and other languages. The committee recommends that francophone universities put “clear guidelines” in place if they plan on teaching in languages other than French.

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