Steven Very Wrong on Quebec Tuition Hike

McGill Tribune

I would like to challenge some of the faulty reasoning expressed in Brendan Steven’s column titled, “Scrap the Quebec Tuition Model” (McGill Tribune, September 20).  In his article, Brendan gauges the value of our entire higher education system through the lens of one university.  He confuses weakness in the government with the inability to equitably fund all tertiary institutions while satisfying the ambitious needs of McGill.  Heather Munroe-Blum would like McGill to rise up in the international rankings. There would be nothing wrong with that if we were a private university. But this action would impoverish our system.  And this is a critical problem, whereby Monroe-Blum may be doing great by McGill’s standards, but her significant lobbying is undermining the advantages of a low tuition rate for the majority of the other students in this province.

Steven states, “There is no solid evidence that the Quebec model improves education. In fact, Quebec lags behind Canada for proportions of young people holding a university degree. Quebec’s graduation rate lies well below the OECD average. Meanwhile, Quebec has had the lowest rate of increase of those holding degrees in the entirety of Canada since 1992.”  He claims that low tuition is not improving our graduation rate, but we must be careful not to look merely at university degree holders, because there are a variety of factors that influence university attendance and completion.  One of the reasons Quebec lags behind in graduation rates is because of the problems in both the primary and secondary levels of the Quebec education system, which contribute to a large dropout rate.

Surprisingly, Steven raises the issue of equalization payments. He states they are despised in the rest of Canada, but that is simply not true.  This issue is recycled across Canada when media outlets would like to sell more product or gather more attention to their product.  They do this by dragging out polarizing issues that perpetuate the “Quebec versus the rest of Canada” hyperbole.  These payments are mathematically calculated and used to pay for healthcare and education—big ticket items that would otherwise burden provincial finances.

Tuition is one way of increasing revenue to universities and I have no doubt the current government will try to increase the tuition rate over the next few years. Clearly, the voice of McGill is being heard in the Charest administration. But all tuition is artificial as most students in the entire country do not pay the “real” cost of a university education.  Tuition, however, like the price for any product, tends to rise until the market will bear no more—when the average investment does not equate to advantage or benefit. In fact this may already be the case for many students in Ontario, the province with some of the highest tuition fees in the country.  Steven advocates scrapping the current tuition model because it would be advantageous for McGill, and I have no doubt that it would. But is it worth destroying our current provincial system so that we can re-create Harvard in the heart of Montreal?

We have to look at other ways of generating revenue. Tuition is one method, but it is not the only way.

The best way to discuss this issue would be in a forum. I challenge the author to present his case at the PGSS/SSMU/AGSEM panel discussion on university financing this upcoming October.

Ryan Hughes is Vice-President External of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University, and can be reached at [email protected].

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