A simple question of fairness in university funding

In mid-March, students from the student associations of McGill University and Concordia University came together to strike against the tuition fee increases announced by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in 2023. University students Anglophones took to the streets shouting “Scandal at this measure”, saying it is unfair and discriminatory. As for me, although it still makes Quebecers look like xenophobes or Anglophobes, I think it is a simple question of fairness.

Economic disparity

It is well known that Concordia and especially McGill benefit from private donations from their former students. This wealth accumulated over decades allows these universities to benefit from significant funding, a tradition which is less well established in French-speaking networks. We understand the extent of this wealth from the response of English-speaking universities to this increase in fees, which propose to offer their students scholarships to compensate for the new price they will have to pay. It only takes a simple calculation to grasp the small fortune that this represents.

French-speaking universities also benefit from private donations, but this amount is not equivalent for socio-economic reasons, since the majority of McGill students come from higher and cultural backgrounds. In addition, because of their international appeal, English-speaking universities benefit financially from the pool of foreign populations offered to them.

By virtue of these economic disparities, it seems logical to me that French-speaking universities, in a majority French-speaking province, benefit from redistribution. The new fees collected by the Quebec government can be reinvested in other universities in the province so that they can benefit from greater financial support to which they have difficulty accessing at the moment. Quebec has long been committed to an approach to wealth redistribution. Why not apply this ideology even in our universities?

Of course, just because the heads of these universities will recover financially does not mean the same is true for its student population. That said, I remind you that the increase in duties will not apply to residents of Quebec. People here will also be able to benefit from an education in English, at affordable prices, if they wish. As for international students or those from outside the province, I do not see why the responsibility for accessibility to education should fall entirely to the government of Quebec.

Quebec is not the only province to offer English-speaking universities. All of Canada has more than a hundred universities, the majority of which are English-speaking. I therefore strongly doubt that these students will not be able to have access to education in the language of their choice if Quebec does not pay for school tuition for them.

Promoting the French-speaking system

The choice of students towards English-speaking universities is explained in part by the language, but also by their prestige. It is not uncommon, even among French-speaking students here, to hear a thought that I call “McGill or nothing”. This speech promotes the idea that only McGill is a suitable choice to study and justifies enrolling in an English-medium university, even though one speaks French. This same type of ideology seems to apply to English-speaking CEGEPs, as if studying in English automatically meant having access to a better education. An archaic idea which seems to stem from a pre-Quiet Revolution speech.

It is high time to revalorize the French-speaking education system. In a context of globalization and Americanization, English is an important key, yes, but it is wrong to think that studying in French means not being able to shine on the international scene or even enter into dialogue with it. The University of Montreal, for example, constitutes an immense reception area for students from foreign countries such as France, China or even Brazil. Cultural exchanges are rich on campus, where I myself have met students from abroad in each of my courses.

We praise McGill’s reputation, its progress, its international influence, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if Quebec could also distinguish itself by its universities which defend the Francophonie? That when you choose Quebec to study, your options are not limited to English-speaking universities. By keeping the most advantageous tuition fees for French-speaking universities, we offer French-speaking universities the opportunity to really stand out. We allow them to no longer be condemned to remaining in the shadow of the superiority of English education. Finally, we reallocate to them the value they deserve.

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