Tuition On Trial
Calling the new Quebec differential fees a "tax," not a fee, McGill Principal Bernard Shapiro argues against higher tuition fees for out-of-province students.

by Janice Paskey

It is common practice in the United States: in-state tuition fees and out-of-state tuition fees. But when the Quebec government adopted the same approach last fall - the first time ever in Canada - the idea was met with dismay by McGill administration and students alike.

Beginning this September, all out-of-province students will pay an increase of $1,200 bringing tuition to $2,868, while fees for Quebec students remain unchanged at $1,668. (International students will pay increases of between $800 to $1,700).

"I think this differential policy acts as a deterrent to interprovincial mobility that is inappropriate for a country of this sort. It's been declining anyway and so I'm opposed to charging different fees on that ground," Principal Bernard Shapiro says. In charging differential fees, Quebec has broken a sacred trust. Previously, tuition fees varied from province to province, but all Canadian universities charged students from other provinces the same tuition fees that they charged local students. Quebec's tuition fees have long been the lowest in Canada—about $1,300 below the Canadian average of $2,900—which may well have provided incentive for out-of-province students to come to McGill and other Quebec universities.

Pressure was on the government last fall. Quebec universities were lobbying for tuition fee increases to compensate for millions of dollars in budget decreases. Meanwhile, students were protesting in the streets against any fee hikes. Across the nation, all provincial governments were cutting university grants and tuition fees were rising to compensate. For the first time, professional programs began to charge more than arts. Quebec government acted with a political compromise: tuition fees for the electorate would stay the same, the outsiders would pay more. In making her differential fee announcement, Quebec Education Minister, Pauline Marois, pointed out that out-of-province students would not pay higher tuition fees than they would in their own province.

"It's a tax, not a fee," said Principal Shapiro who believes that the Quebec government could have accomplished the same goals by raising tuition fees for everyone to a lesser degree. "It's not the level of the fees I'm against, it's the differential. This approach is very popular with the public; it's always easy to get at the stranger. But we're having to charge more money without the resources to deliver the programs that more money would demand."

Indeed, McGill isn't allowed to keep any of the extra tuition fees; all the money will go to the Quebec government. Of a student's total payment for tuition, McGill can keep only what is considered the "Quebec tuition fee portion"—an amount frozen at $1,680 per student, of which the government then takes another 20 percent, or $336, to support its student loan and bursary program. The government then gives McGill a yearly grant ($192, 632 million in '96/97) but despite the tuition fee hike, the grant is being reduced by $18 million for next year. In response, McGill raised its student fees $6 per year to $206, and instituted a new $265 administrative fee to be charged to all students this fall.

"Students are worried," says Judy Stymest, Director of McGill's Student Aid Program. "Many are at the ceiling of their provincial funding in loans and bursaries." Under direction from Principal Shapiro, McGill's finance staff juggled the university budget and allocated an additional $3.9 million in student aid for '97/98, virtually doubling the amount currently available. "It is our intent that any student in need will get help," pledged Phyllis Heaphy, VP Finance, at a February meeting of the University Senate.

The additional fees affect McGill more than other Quebec universities. McGill has the largest contingent of out of province students of any university in Canada--20 percent of the student body--and the highest percentage of international students, 11 percent. McGill will soon find out if the lower fee, rather than educational quality is the incentive for out-of-province students to attend. But unfortunately, McGill has no family income data on its students, and is unable to assess what kind of burden the higher fees might pose for most students and their parents.

Beyond financial concerns, McGill is concerned about perceived lack of welcome for out-of-province students. Principal Shapiro says, "I'm interested in what lawyers refer to as the colouration argument, that is, will the policy create an effect that is not intended? That is, will McGill lose its status as Canada's most national and international university?" (McGill has long argued that a diverse student body creates the best environment in which to study.) In the 1991 mission statement, McGill stated its aim to be among the world's best universities. That idea has been modified recently as Principal Shapiro uses the world's best publicly-funded universities as a more accurate point of comparison. But the idea of quality is still firmly part of the McGill culture.

"Governments have huge concerns over accessibility but not over quality," Principal Shapiro argues. "I can understand the government's financial problem, they don't have the resources they'd like to have. In that case, though, if they want to sustain the quality of the programs, something that is crucial to the future of the province, then they've got to provide other ways for universities to access funds."

In sum, Principal Shapiro says he is not surprised, but disappointed, that the government didn't keep tuition the same for all Canadians. "All Canadians pay taxes, why differentiate between one and the other?" Shapiro argues. Indeed, while education is a provincial responsibility, money for it and other services comes from the federal government in the form of a "transfer payment." This shared spending model is why the United States model doesn't quite fit, as the Quebec minister of education suggests it should.

In the American context, individual states fund education from taxpayer dollars and universities then compete for federal research grants. The well- regarded public university Berkeley has in-state tuition fees of US$2,177.25 and US$4, 197 for out-of-state. (Canada has no comparison for the expensive private American universities where tuition rings in high: US$19,770 at Harvard, for example.) If the United States is to be our model, it is worth noting that the top 10 public universities spend twice as much as Canadian universities to educate a student. And a more developed loan and bursary system means that American undergraduates do not graduate with a greater loan burden than Canadians.

McGill Tuition Fees
Quebec Students $1,668.30
Canadian out-of-province $2,868.30
Doctoral (Canadian and Quebec)
six semesters of residency: $1,668.30 for two semesters
thesis writing
(additional session student):
$834 per semester
phased in over 3 years.
International Students
Undergraduate Arts, Education, Law, Religious Studies, and currently registered Management students: $8,268.30
Agriculture, Engineering, Music, Nursing, Physical and Occupational Therapy and Sciences: $9,168.30
Master's: $8,268.30
Doctoral: $7,458.30
International $14,331.72
Canadian $4,971.72
Quebec $2,891.72
Quebec $2,225.38
Canadian $5,545.38
Self-Funded Programs
Faculty of Management
International Students MBA $16,000
Bachelor of Commerce $12,000
All Students
Master's in Economic Policy Management $40,000 for the total program
International Program for Practicing Managers $60,000 for the total program
Faculty of Engineering
Master's in Manufacturing Management $25,000
International Students: $32,000
Additional fees
Administrative fee: $265
Student Services fee: $206