McGill is calling on Premier François Legault to immediately reverse the government measures released today and go back to the drawing board.
“These policies are unacceptable. They are incoherent, not based on data and will not meet the stated objectives of the government. More importantly, their effect on the Quebec economy and on Quebec universities will be absolutely devastating. In short, they do not serve Quebecers well,” said Deep Saini, President and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University.
Both the tuition policy and the unrealistic targets for francisation will result in a severe and unprecedented drop in enrolment at McGill that puts the University’s very future in question. They will undermine Montreal’s reputation as a world-renowned student city, put at risk the pipeline of highly skilled talent and have immediate and long-lasting impacts on the Quebec economy.
“The Minister, and ultimately, the government, is responsible for the health of the entire university sector. It is nearly inconceivable that they are advancing policies that will deeply harm some universities and ultimately Quebec.
“The harm that they will do is entirely unnecessary. There is a way to revitalize all universities to boost innovation and economic growth, welcome talent throughout the regions of Quebec, and protect and promote the French language,” said Saini. “It is possible to work together to strengthen universities that are facing challenges without weakening others.
“We urge the government to collaborate with universities and to take the time needed to gather information, analyze the data and consult with stakeholders. The Minister bypassed the consultation process with all universities that the Ministry had put in place and has never shared any evidence for its decisions.”
Today, the government announced a target of having 80 per cent of undergraduate students from outside Quebec reach an intermediate proficiency in French by the time they graduate, starting with students who begin their studies in 2025.
“McGill has actively supported the government’s objective to promote and protect the French language. However, this target is academically and technically unfeasible and will only serve to deter students from coming here,” Saini said.
A student with no previous knowledge of French will require the equivalent of a full semester of classes to reach an intermediate level. Faced with having to take an extra semester to complete their degree, the majority will choose to go elsewhere.
The addition of the impractical francisation targets will create a double hit for recruitment: Canadian students from outside Quebec will turn away due to tuition that is the most expensive in the country for most programs, and the increased cost and time to complete a degree will deter international students from coming to Quebec as well.
Tuition measures for international students
On October 13, 2023, the Minister announced changes to the tuition model for international students, which effectively creates a tax on international student tuition of approximately $5,000 per student that will go back to the government. Today, the government confirmed it will not reconsider this policy.
“The unrealistic francisation targets will have such a ruinous effect on international student recruitment that most of the revenue the government is counting on will simply not be realized,” Saini emphasized.
“Instead, we can work together to take advantage of Quebec’s attractiveness as an international education destination to draw students here. Attracting more international students to all universities across Quebec will inject new talent and financial resources into our society, strengthen our economy and address the severe labour shortage facing employers.”
Tuition for Canadian students from outside Quebec
Meanwhile, the $12,000 tuition for Canadian students outside Quebec will make our universities the most expensive in Canada for students in most programs, putting our universities out of reach for many. For Arts, Sciences, Music and Education, for example, it will cost approximately twice as much to attend Quebec universities than to attend the University of Toronto or the University of British Columbia.
Even before today’s announcement, McGill has seen a 20 per cent fall in applications from Canadian students outside Quebec as compared to the same time last year. With application deadlines for non-Quebec students coming in January, these policies will only accentuate the decline.
With a reduction in international student enrolment that will surely come about as a result of the francisation targets, the financial impact on McGill is expected to exceed the $94 million that the University previously estimated.
The measures will also deprive Quebec of an important pool of skilled labour for years to come at a time when Quebec faces a significant labour shortage, a point many business leaders have made recently as they voiced their disagreement with the measures.
With fewer students from outside Quebec studying at our universities, the economy of Montreal will also feel an immediate chill, as students will not be paying for food, entertainment and supplies. A study from the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain estimated that students from outside Quebec contributed $427 million to Quebec’s GDP in 2019-20, outside of tuition fees.
A realistic solution
The three English-speaking universities reached out to the government and made several proposals that included concrete, realistic and achievable targets to help non-francophone undergraduate students learn French and integrate into Quebec’s society and workforce. The latest proposal was made public on December 9, 2023.
“I urge Premier Legault to seriously consider the proposals that the English-speaking universities have put forward. Quebec deserves a solution that will promote and protect the French language without harming the Quebec economy or its universities.
“We are prepared to work with the government and our sister universities across Quebec to design a system that works to the benefit of all universities, Quebec society and the Quebec economy.” Saini said.