Student Life

A look at Quebec’s reduced tuition policy: Stories from France and beyond

Since 1978, the Quebec government has upheld several bilateral student mobility agreements with foreign French-speaking countries. They signed the first of these with the French government in August 1978, and later signed another with the Belgian government in 2018, allowing French-speaking Belgians to attend the university at a discounted rate. Although these policies aim to increase student mobility, they have an underlying goal: To promote the French language in Quebec. 

Under these agreements, some foreign students holding a French or Belgian passport are eligible to receive a significant discount on Quebec’s international student tuition fees. Instead of paying the standard international rate of $42,190.38 for a Bachelor of Arts degree, French and French-speaking Belgian students can instead benefit from the province’s out-of-province tuition of $11,426.28—a 73 per cent discount. Because of the policy, ever-increasing numbers of Francophone students are drawn to McGill each year, which plays out in the makeup of the school’s student population. Together, McGill’s French and Belgian students represent a combined 18.6 per cent of the total international student population—making it one of the largest international communities at the university. 

To better understand these agreements’ impact on McGill’s student population, four francophone students shared how the tuition exemption policies have benefited their educational opportunities and fostered a strong francophone community at the university.

Paul Boura, U2 Finance

As a France-born Malaysian, Boura’s dual citizenship allowed him to benefit from Quebec’s bilateral agreement with the French government. Wanting to pursue a degree in management, he explored educational opportunities abroad, but options in France were limited and not entirely suited to his needs. McGill compelled him with its high-standing reputation, international student population, and low cost. The $11,000 annual tuition rate, combined with Montreal’s relatively low cost of living, enabled him to pursue an affordable, international undergraduate experience. 

He noted that French students, especially in Management, are “very close to each other.” 

“When I hear French being spoken, I am drawn to it,” Boura added. “Although I can say that McGill’s high French population facilitated my integration and making friends here, it did also restrict me from meeting other types of people and going outside of my comfort zone.” 

Lisa Matmati, U2 Political Science

Matmati is a second-year French student, raised both in Lyon, France, and San Francisco, USA. Her dual citizenship deeply influenced her selection of a post-secondary institution. Despite living in France at the time, she hoped to pursue a university education in English. However, she found all of these boxes difficult to check; the desire to study in English combined with her hope to pursue an international education was not easy to find. 

“Outside of France, your options of where [to go] are limited [by] price, distance and what you want to study,” Matmati explained. “Before Brexit, a lot of people went to the UK, since it’s close to home and prices were feasible, but that is no longer the case. Being American, I did want to find a North American type of school system without having to pay the cost of American schools.”

Matmati shared that without the tuition exemption for French students, she never would have considered McGill. 

“It simply wasn’t feasible for my family,” she said. “As an international student, going to and from Montreal is already a huge expense—flight tickets aren’t cheap—so if you add that to international tuition fees, it would’ve been way out of budget.”

Mathieu Fouilloux, U2 Joint Honours in Economics and Finance

Fouilloux was born in France and lived in Singapore and other cities before coming to Montreal. Despite growing up outside of France, his French citizenship made him eligible for Quebec’s international tuition fee exemption. 

Like many, Fouilloux admitted to being surprised by the number of francophones at McGill, and he recognizes that it made a positive difference in his student experience.

“I was expecting a much more anglophone experience,” he shared. “Although meeting other French-speaking students wasn’t my primary goal, being surrounded by people who spoke my first language felt comforting.”

Fouilloux shared that his first-year living situation played into his socialization patterns at McGill.

“I lived in New Residence Hall when I was a first-year, where there was a particularly high concentration of French-speaking students,” he said. “Not only did that help me create a sense of community, but I also reunited with people from my international schools that I hadn’t seen in 10 years. It really reinforced a sense of belonging between French people from international schools.”

This speaks to how big and diverse the francophone community is; that subgroups of French people from different backgrounds emerge within the larger French student population.

Olivia Neuray, U2 International Development 

Born and raised in Brussels, Belgium, Neuray moved to Canada at the age of 17 to pursue her undergraduate degree at McGill University. She highlighted the affordability of the tuition cost—in contrast with that of England—as a decisive factor in her choice to attend McGill. Neuray also cited the increased cost for European students to attend English universities due to Brexit.

Neuray insists that the influence of a student’s francophone surroundings mostly depends on the type of person they are. 

“If a francophone student only feels comfortable with French-speaking people, then I think they’ll be more prone to seek out a community of other French people,” Neuray said. “Personally, I don’t feel that way, but I was still naturally drawn toward francophone students nonetheless.”

In Neuray’s case, the high concentration of French-speaking students at McGill has had a dual impact on her experience as a francophone student. 

“Although I love the bond I have created with my [French] roommates, I didn’t travel across the world to end up spending most of my time with people from my country, or from a neighbouring country,” Neuray said. 

These international student mobility agreements have, amongst other things, revealed how the impact of tuition fees extends beyond the simple matter of access to education; they have broader demographic and social consequences on student bodies. While 2,000 French and Belgian students benefit from Quebec’s low out-of-province tuition, similar agreements with non-European French-speaking countries are seemingly nonexistent. How would McGill’s population look different if Haitian, Vietnamese, Moroccan, and Senegalese students were offered the same policies? Student population numbers from countries such as Nigeria (81) or Lebanon (119) are equivalent to or higher than McGill’s Belgian community. Yet, they face higher financial barriers when pursuing an education in Quebec. This begs the question as to what efforts have been made in this sense, or why the Quebec government has yet to undertake student mobility agreements with other countries.

The question of attracting francophone students remains a central issue in Quebec. A recent provincial policy proposal intends to double tuition fees for incoming out-of-province students and threatens to unbalance the distribution of McGill’s student demographic. Just like in 1978 and 2018, if enacted, this policy will change the face of who can and will be a McGill student. 

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