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McGill announces pause to $50 million French learning program

On Oct. 19, McGill announced a pause in the rollout of its five-year, $50 million Rayonnement du français initiative, intended to increase access to French-learning resources in order to improve students’ and staff’s knowledge of the language.

In an email to the McGill community on Oct. 25, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini explained that on Oct. 6, the Quebec government had alerted the university that “changes that could affect [its] financial situation were coming,” compelling McGill to pause the rollout of its French-learning initiative. 

On Oct. 13, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) unveiled plans to increase tuition rates starting in September 2024. New out-of-province Canadian students’ fees will nearly double—from the current $8,992 to roughly $17,000—and international students will pay a minimum tuition fee of $20,000. With the new policy, the government will receive this minimum tuition fee, and English universities will receive the rest of the fee. Controversially, the extra money levied will be redistributed to francophone secondary and higher education institutions throughout Quebec.

In an email sent to the McGill community on Nov. 2, Principal Saini explained that the fee increase would result in a fall in the number of out-of-province students. McGill estimates that in a best-case scenario, increased recruiting from Quebec and other countries abroad would fill 80 per cent of the places taken by Canadian students; in a worst-case scenario, 20 per cent. The reduction in the student population from out-of-province Canadian students will lead to a decrease in enrollment revenue between $17.6 million and $69.8 million, depending on which scenario McGill is met with. This would force McGill to enact measures ensuring financial stability—such as cutting 650-700 jobs.

The CAQ has stated various reasons for this significant increase in tuition fees for out-of-province students. Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry stated that the government wants this policy to create greater equilibrium in funding between the province’s francophone and anglophone universities. The majority of the $407 million generated by out-of-province students currently goes to the province’s English-speaking universities. Quebec’s Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, however, stated that the policy is aimed at preserving the French language in Quebec.

Daniel Béland, Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, pointed out that this announcement came after their recent loss of a by-election in Quebec City to the rival nationalist party, the Parti Québécois (PQ). According to him, the CAQ sought to regain some political ground by announcing an allegedly Francophone-protecting policy.

“The PQ […] pushes really hard on education and the protection of French language and [the] CAQ is reacting to […] [that] recent victory in this Quebec City riding […] by saying we protect French and French Universities,” Béland said.

Althea Thompson, a second-year History Ph.D. student at Concordia who was among those protesting against the tuition hikes on Oct. 30, told The Tribune in an interview that she was supportive of McGill’s pausing of the Rayonnement du français initiative.

“I think that’s a really great way to fight back because, if you are going to cut the funding to the university, then why would they promote the government’s [policy],” Thompson said.

However, some students were more cautious about the impact of pausing the initiative. Constance Dorion, U2 Arts, said that she opposes the suspension of McGill’s French program because Anglophones already find learning the language difficult.

“The McGill French program is so backwards because it is already difficult, and [it is] pricey, sometimes, to learn French […],” Dorion said. “It gives the idea that it is more difficult to [come to McGill, and] it makes it feel very closed […] But I feel like a lot of us actual Quebec people want people to come, but we just want them to learn French.”

On Nov. 6, Principal Saini sent an email to the McGill community, stating that he and Concordia’s and Bishop’s University principals met with Quebec’s Premier, François Legault, and Déry to propose some solutions designed to promote French in Quebec without raising English-speaking universities’ tuition fees. Saini said that the government promised it would follow up on the universities’ proposal in the following days.

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