McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum addressed the National Assembly’s Commission on Culture and Education in Quebec City on Tuesday, urging the provincial government to allow universities to raise tuition for Quebec undergraduates to the Canadian average.
The speech was Munroe-Blum’s latest attempt to convince Quebec to address what university administrators have described as the chronic underfunding of universities in the province. It was delivered as part of a larger report on McGill’s financial and academic operations. Every three years, Quebec requires university heads to present a report on their performance and future plans, as well as take questions from ministers of education.
McGill’s 65-page report emphasizes the university’s beneficial role in the province, citing the hundreds of professors hired in the last decade and the university’s many research collaborations. But it also decries Bills 100 and 38, the government’s proposed university governance legislation, which would place new requirements on McGill’s Board of Governors.
The report also advocates raising tuition for undergraduates in the province. Part of the revenue from any additional tuition, though, would be used to increase financial aid for students in need, Munroe-Blum said in a telephone interview after the speech.
“We believe that you cannot have a policy of increasing tuition without an integrated element of that policy that increases student aid for those [poorer] students,” she said.
Quebec’s low tuition rates, she added, had not increased the number of Quebecers in university.
“Quebec is not a leader, even with its low tuition fees, in getting good levels of university participation or university degree completion,” she said.
Munroe-Blum took questions after her presentation in what she described as a “very collegial exchange” with ministers. But Students’ Society Vice-President External Myriam Zaidi, who attended the presentation, said that the ministers’ questions were much harsher.
“It was like a trial,” she said. “The ministers around the table asked very sharp questions to Munroe-Blum and [McGill Provost Anthony] Masi.”
Zaidi said that Munroe-Blum, failed to consider several important factors in her criticisms of Quebec’s low university participation rate. Quebec’s CEGEP system, for instance, may reduce the number of students who choose to attend university in the province.
“It’s more appealing to many students to do a technical, professional degree that costs them pennies compared to attending university,” she said.