What does it mean?

Increasing tuition fees means reducing access to higher education for the less wealthy

For a while now, several public personalities have tried to convince the population that a tuition fee increase would have a “null” effect on the accessibility of post-secondary education. Raymond Bachand has gone as far as to say that low tuition fees were a subsidy to the rich, and that, in this sense, an increase in tuition fees was a “question of social justice.” However, the facts disprove these affirmations.

A Statistics Canada study, Revenu familial et participation aux études postsecondaires (2003, Corak), found that the tuition hikes in the 1990s in the rest of Canada had decreased the participation in post-secondary education for youths from families earning less than $75 000 per year. Another study, commissioned by the Education, Leisure and Sport Ministry (MELS), and entitled Les frais de scolarité, l’aide financière aux études et la fréquentation des établissements d’enseignement postsecondaire (2007, Vierstraete), arrives at these same conclusions. In other words, the more tuition fees increase, the higher is the proportion of students from less fortunate families losing access. “Social justice,” then, would not be an increase in tuition fees, but rather their decrease to favour universal access to postsecondary education.

Loans and bursaries will never absorb the negative effects of a tuition fee increase

To appease student anger, the Charest government will reinvest 35% of the tuition hike sum into the Financial Aid program (AFE). This additional $118 million will cover the tuition increase for those who already have access to the bursary program, and will allow for a slight increase of the number of recipients. Nevertheless, the large majority of youths from financially modest and middling families will remain excluded from this improvement. This effect will prove even more dramatic in consideration of the fact that 40% of parents, independently of their revenue, do not help their children financially during their studies. [1] By its nature, Financial Aid will never completely absorb the negative effects of a tuition hike. To do so, it would have to be accessible to all, and the costs of such a measure would largely surpass the sum obtained by the tuition fee increase.

The sums obtained from the tuition hike will not fix the systemic problems of Quebec universitieThe sums obtained from the tuition hike will not fix the systemic problems of Quebec universities

The argument that the Quebec university system is in ruins has been quite fashionable recently. It is compared to the Ontario system and to the prestigious universities of the United States, and tears are shed for the scrawny aisles of our thinly-stocked libraries. Seeing as Quebec has the lowest tuition fees of either Canada or the United States, the increase of these seems to be the obvious solution. However, despite our low fees, government statistics demonstrate that the Quebec university network is better financed than elsewhere:

By using total university spending in relation to gross domestic product (GDP), it is clear that, compared to the rest of Canada, Quebec is the province with the strongest financial dedication to universities. In 2008-2009, total university spending amounted to 1.94% of GDP in Quebec, compared to 1.76% in Ontario, 1.65% in all of Canada, and 1.58% in Canada without Quebec.

We then arrive to an analogous conclusion in comparing total university spending by student. Continuing with 2008-2009, total spending was $29 242 per year in Quebec, compared to $28 735 for the rest of Canada, $26 383 for Ontario, and $28 846 for all of Canada. [2]

Two remarks must then be made. On one hand, Quebec universities are not lacking any money. On the other hand, the sums accrued by the tuition fee increases would represent an increase of less than 5% in Quebec university budgets. The problems of the province’s universities are due more to a bad redistribution of resources, which disadvantages the allocation of funds to teaching and directly to students. At the University of Montreal, for example, management personnel’s proportion of total university spending increased from 10% to 15% between 2000 and 2008, while the proportion for professors decreased from 26% to 22%.

Education is increasingly becoming a private institution integrated into market necessities, and is losing its social role

The tuition fee increase does not only have a monetary impact. In moving from government-ensured public financing to private financing ensured by the student and corporate philanthropy, the role of education itself will change. The student becomes a client, buying a service in the goal of increasing the marketable value of his/her work. By this reasoning, it is normal for him/her to pay a fee proportional to the benefits they will accrue as a result of their education. This vision has been put forward by different organizations of the economic right (Conseil du patronat, l’Institut économique de Montréal, CIRANO, etc.) and is clearly present in the 2011 Quebec budget. The government’s plan aiming at increasing corporate philanthropy is also going in this same direction. By favoring voluntary contributions from profit-oriented organizations, the government is changing the status of university research. The latter then becomes submitted to market imperatives as it is made dependent to markets for financing.

Increasing tuition fees is not the result of economic constraints, but of a political choice

One cannot state that this increase is an economic necessity, especially if one takes into account the fact that these increases will bring in only about $216 million per year – which represents only 4.7% of the estimated $4.5 billion university budget of 2016-2017, and 0.3% of the State of Quebec’s total budget.

By choosing flat-rate financing of universities (regressive in relation to income) rather than by income tax (progressive), the government has made a choice to favor society’s wealthiest, to submit universities to market imperatives, and to reduce general access to postsecondary education.

Students are already experiencing financial trouble

With the 2007 unfreezing of tuition fees, supporters of the hike have repeatedly propounded that the additional $50 per semester only represented one less beer per week. They of course entirely negate the cumulative effect of the increase. Will they have the gall to affirm that this $1625 hike only represents 16 less beers per week?

On a more serious note, an exhaustive study conducted by the FEUQ, entitled Sources et modes de financement des étudiants de premier cycle – 2009, demonstrates that the median income for university students is $12 200 per year. After having paid tuition fees (average of $2600 per year in 2009), only $9600 are left. An increase of $1625 in tuition fees then represents a compression of 17% in available income. One wonders how students will eat in 5 years, considering that the cost of living is considerably increasing everywhere. To make it, students will have to work the equivalent of 162 extra hours at a salary of $10/hr.s


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