December’s announcement of the drastic budget cuts facing McGill shocked the administration and the entire student body. While the cuts affect all of Quebec, there has been an emerging opinion among some Quebecers that McGill and other English-speaking universities should bear the brunt of these cuts. The argument is that McGill is not culturally part of the Quebec tradition, and is—as students often call it—a ‘bubble,’ set apart from the rest of the city and province. Nearly half of McGill’s student body is made up of out-of-province or international students, leading to a sense of dilution of the city’s French heritage, and consequently, lack of prioritization for provincial funding.
In addition to the recent budget cuts, there have been proposals from the Parti Québécois (PQ) which would specifically target McGill, such as a plan to provide increased funding to universities that attract more first-generation post-secondary students. As Lisa-Marie Gervais points out in an article in Le Devoir entitled “Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur – Pour une gouvernance «efficace»,” McGill is typically attended by students from more educated families. Such targeting, however indirect, reflects the belief that francophone universities deserve more funding.
What these policies will do is put at risk the great benefits McGill offers to Montreal and Quebec as a whole. Far from being a threat to the culture of Montreal, McGill is one of the city’s biggest assets. The institution’s name recognition alone is something to nurture and take pride in; despite its recent fall in one ranking, McGill is a world-renowned university—placing 18th in 2012 according to the QS annual global rankings—which attracts a lot of positive attention. As a result, brilliant young minds move here, ready both to partake in the province’s tradition of knowledge and academia. Students explore the Montreal area and gain an understanding of Quebec’s deep culture, and indeed, its language. Another factor is the general tourist industry McGill generates. As a renowned university full of history on its own, the campus is an essential Montreal attraction.
Even more important are the established innovators McGill attracts. Among the most historically notable was Wilder Penfield, who founded the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI), which continues to be a valuable resource to the city as a whole. In the future, there is no telling who will come to Montreal attracted by the prospect of McGill, and further contribute to the city’s amazing history of creation and culture. Despite its financial troubles, McGill has continued to commit to innovation with programs such as the recently announced collaborative aerospace projects with the francophone L’école de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), and the planned Quartier de l’innovation, which hopes to revitalize an old industrial section of downtown Montreal by providing space for joint endeavours between McGill, ÉTS, and private-sector companies.
McGill has a great deal to offer to Montreal, and has already done so much. Like any other asset, it must be nurtured and valued in order to thrive and provide maximum returns. Rather than being written off as a poor investment, McGill should be understood in terms of its potential benefits. While it may not contribute to the francophone legacy that the government is bound to protect, its benefits shine through in other areas. Given the opportunity and support, they will continue to do so for years to come.