Peter Grutter, the executive director of the McGill University Association of University Teachers, said faculty are “appalled” by the Quebec government’s new tuition and language requirements, which he told University Affairs, will have a “substantial negative socio-economic” impact on both the city of Montreal and the province. “Our work and reputation are built on a diverse assemblage of Quebecois, Canadian and international faculty, students and staff,” said Dr. Grutter. “We ask the government to reverse their decision and not damage McGill, Montreal and Quebec.”
Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry announced changes last Wednesday that will see tuition for non-Quebec resident students rise to $12,000, which is 33 per cent more than what out-of-province students currently pay. The increase will take effect for the fall 2024 cohort of undergraduate and professional master’s programs. While the increase to $12,000 is less than the $17,000 initially announced by the province in October, it is still double what the same students would pay for most programs at the University of Toronto or University of British Columbia.
The plan also states that 80 per cent of out-of-province undergraduate students at Quebec English-language universities will be required to achieve level 5 intermediate proficiency in French by the time they graduate. In a letter posted on X, Minister Déry said the government wants both Canadian and foreign graduates to better integrate into Quebec society and to stop the decline of French in the province, particularly in Montreal.
Following the most recent government announcement, McGill President Deep Saini called the measures a “targeted attack” on English-language universities in the province. In a letter addressed to faculty and students, he said the new French language targets are “utterly unrealistic,” estimating it would require students with no French knowledge to take a full semester of courses, on average, to reach intermediate level.
The province is also sticking to its decision – first announced on Oct. 13 – to claw back a large portion of revenue from international student fees at English institutions. The proposed policy would raise the price tag to a minimum of $20,000 per year for these students, with a significant amount – $17,000 – to be redistributed by the government to French-language universities.
The Université du Québec network said in a statement that it welcomed the latest round of measures which will ensure a “better balance of income generated by international students between universities.” Previously, the heads of Université de Montreal, Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke, Polytechnique Montréal and HEC Montréal rejected that argument in a joint letter published by La Presse, stating the tuition increases will only result in a redistribution of funds rather than new investments in local universities.
McGill administrators estimated the total financial impact on the institution prior to the latest round of announcements was between $42 million and $94 million annually. Concordia University will also take a serious financial hit. The university estimates that the tuition requirements and clawbacks would result in a total loss of $15.5 million in revenue for 2024-25, compounding its current deficit. In a statement that was shared with staff and students, President Graham Carr said the university is “committed to promoting French among its students,” but the government isn’t considering the investment and time needed to build adequate language courses, or how the tuition measures will impact the university’s ability to invest in language training.
Quebec’s reputation “tarnished”
The uncertainty of the last two months has sent a negative message to the rest of Canada and to international students that Dr. Carr said “cannot be undone,” and will consequently threaten Concordia’s identity as a “diverse, global university.” Dr. Saini also worries the regulations will deprive Quebec employers of talented workers during a prolonged labour shortage and will harm the province’s capacity to innovate. “Quebec’s reputation around the world will be – and indeed, already is – tarnished,” he declared in his letter to staff and students.
The moves have also garnered outrage from university alumni. According to their website, roughly 50 per cent of McGill’s alumni live in Quebec and many hold high-profile jobs in the province. Andrew Doyle, a former McGill student senator called the proposed government measures shortsighted. “The Legault government’s misguided changes will do nothing to protect the French language in Quebec, and only serve to isolate Quebecers from the world,” said Mr. Doyle. “The province could have explored other ways to bolster French in Montreal rather than a huge, clumsy cash grab that serves nobody but the province’s bottom line.”
No increase for out-of-province tuition at Bishop’s
Meanwhile Bishop’s University will benefit from a special exemption, which will allow the Sherbrooke institution to keep the price tag for out-of-province student tuition at about $9,000 per year. In a statement, principal and vice-chancellor Sébastien Lebel-Grenier noted “this positive outcome for Bishop’s would not have been possible without the unwavering support of leaders of the Eastern Townships community.” He expressed appreciation to the “Francophone leaders who have come out unequivocally in support of Bishop’s. They were able to convince the Quebec government that we and the students we welcome to campus from the rest of Canada are not a threat to the French language, but rather an essential part of what makes our region unique.” The Quebec Student Union wrote on X that it was pleased Bishop’s had been exempted but that the union opposes any increases to tuition and will be closely monitoring for “the harmful impacts” of the measures.