Editorial: Deregulation at McGill should not necessitate an increase in international student tuition

The Quebec government recently announced a new round of budget cuts to university funding for the 2016-2017 academic year. As a means of mitigating the blow, however, the government is rumoured to also have given Quebec universities the green light to raise tuition for international students to the tune of up to 25 per cent, according to La Presse. Tuition deregulation, which would do away with equalizing payments—a process that funnels any tuition above the Quebec rate generated from international students back to the government to be redistributed among universities throughout the province—has been on the administration’s radar for a while. The elimination of equalization payments is a necessary step, but the administration should seek to minimize, as much as possible, any additional financial burden that deregulation will place on McGill’s international students.

McGill stands to benefit from deregulation, but a concurrent increase in tuition for international students is unnecessary. While deregulation doesn’t need to go hand-in-hand with an increase in international tuition, McGill’s track record of tuition deregulation does not provide a promising outlook: History suggests that deregulation will invariably result in a tuition increase for non-Canadians. In McGill’s deregulated Faculty of Engineering, for example, international students pay $37,054.55 in tuition and fees, compared to an undergraduate international student in the regulated Faculty of Arts who pays only $18,258.61 a year.

The budget constraints faced by the university provide an obvious draw for McGill to discontinue its payments to Quebec’s equalization system if given the opportunity. Deregulating the remaining faculties would allow McGill to reinvest international students’ supplemental tuition money into the services and infrastructure that its students use.

The burden of a tuition increase on international students would therefore pose a risk to McGill’s accessibility for non-Canadian students.

Additionally, a portion of the money retained from deregulation should be put towards bursary programs, so that international students are not faced with a significant financial burden that would inhibit them from attending the university. In order to maintain accessibility for international students, however, McGill cannot rely solely on bursaries and other reactive solutions to alleviate a vast increase in international student tuition which follows deregulation.

International students make up a large percentage of McGill’s student body—approximately 25 per cent. In the context of tuition deregulation, this means two things: First, McGill is currently losing a significant amount of money from international students that is being diverted away from the university and funneled into other universities that have a potentially smaller income due to fewer numbers of international students. Secondly, McGill has a unique demographic makeup that it should seek to foster and protect—not exploit.

Significantly increasing the cost of international student tuition sends the wrong message to McGill’s international student body, members of the community who contribute to McGill’s cultural diversity. This diversity continues to attract open-minded and cosmopolitan students from around the world to study at McGill. Moreover, concerns about accessibility for international students are salient, and McGill has not shown that it can provide adequate bursaries for students in deregulated faculties to balance the costs that the tuition increases would incur. The burden of a tuition increase on international students would therefore pose a risk to McGill’s accessibility for non-Canadian students.

Quebec’s student body has long advocated for affordable tuition—a principle that has guided the ideologies of student unions within the province, and which backed the student protests against tuition hikes in 2012. Tuition increases, while necessary for the future viability of Quebec’s universities, are opposed in principle by many of the province’s students. International students have generally been more open to such increases, but this should not give the university free reign to increase tuition for these students.

McGill should take advantage of the financial benefits it stands to gain from eliminating equalization payments that divert McGill’s funds directly into the hands of the provincial government for reallocation at its discretion. This potential for increased income, however, should not be tied inextricably to an increase in international student tuition. McGill’s cultural and socioeconomic variety is at risk; to protect this diversity, McGill should limit the hardships faced by international students.

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