a, Opinion

Eliminating ethnocentric tuition policies

Quebec has always made the preservation of the French language and culture within the province a priority.  In many areas of Quebec, speaking French is not only encouraged, but necessary. This custom of preserving Quebec’s French roots merits praise; however, it should not come at the cost of alienating people of different backgrounds. The bilateral agreement between France and Quebec which allows French students to receive Quebec tuition while studying in the province is one such example of an exclusive policy whose terms disadvantage other international or out-of-province students without French citizenship.

The agreement, signed in 1965, incentivizes native French speakers to come to Quebec to receive their university education. The policy has certainly succeeded in attracting French students, thereby promoting the use of French within the province. It also gives French students the ability to experience university abroad at an even lower price than they would pay in France. Despite the benefits of this agreement, its exclusion of non-French citizens is tinged with the ethnocentric tendencies that Quebec has been known to display in its relations with France.

At a public Canadian university such as McGill, it doesn’t seem entirely right that French students should have a lower tuition than others, especially when some of those excluded from the tuition agreement also speak French. There are, indeed, other French-speaking countries whose students may receive exemptions on their tuitions. However, the list is brief and restricts the number of students from each country who may receive lowered tuition. If Quebec is truly concerned about promoting the use of French, all francophones should be given equal advantage, regardless of their citizenship. Such a change would encourage even more French-speaking students to come to Quebec, and it would promote greater equality among students whose tuition rates are widely disparate.

There is no easy way to level tuition prices in order to treat all students equally.  One option would be to raise the tuition for French students in order to decrease the margin of difference. However, in order to attract enough French students to Quebec, tuition rates in the province must be low enough to compete with the low prices of education in France. If the McGill tuition rate for French citizens were to be raised too high, French students would lose their incentive to come to Quebec to receive their education, which would be detrimental to the preservation of Quebec’s culture and language. There are also, of course, budgetary concerns. One must acknowledge that the province simply cannot afford to lower the tuition equally for all students. Therefore, a more inclusive policy to give advantage to all fluent French speakers, regardless of nationality, would be a good first step.

A language test to determine proficiency for all students claiming French as a first language would allow all francophones to receive the same benefits. While such a policy would still exclude non-French speakers from the lowered tuition, it would, in theory, be a more equitable policy than the current agreement, which excludes many francophone students from the same tuition exemptions as their French counterparts.  If this change were to be implemented, Quebec’s defensive preservation of French language and culture, historically characterized by its ethnocentric, colonial relationship with France, would be replaced by a more inclusive promotion of French that would include people of all backgrounds, which would be a step in the right direction.

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