On Campus

Novel Quebec tuition proposal draws praise, fire

Youth wing of Liberal party wants to raise tuition—but delay payment until students graduate

Quebec’s provincial Liberal youth wing proposed a solution to the chronic underfunding of the post-secondary system in that province: an across-the-board tuition-fee increase to the national average that students would only need to pay following the completion of their studies.

The proposal was adopted by the youth at a weekend convention in Sherbrooke, Que.

Quebec media picked up on the story quickly. Most of the coverage in English media focused on the “doubling” or “tripling” of tuition fees to meet the apparent national average of $6,000.

Quebec Young Liberal president François Beaudry took issue with this framing of the issue, arguing that while the proposal does increase tuition fees to that average, no student would feel the weight of the increased fees until they could afford to pay through a percentage of their income tax after graduation. While in school, he said, all students would still pay the same tuition—around $2,500.

According to Beaudry, studies have shown Quebec schools are underfunded by more than $350 million a year. The provincial government cannot close that funding gap on its own, said Beaudry, and the responsible move would be for students to do their part.

“The debate was to raise the number to $6,000, and the difference between the $2,500 and $6,000 would be paid through income tax after graduation,” said Beaudry. “We think the user should pay.”

Beaudry said that “the youth is going to pay for the service, for better quality.” And they should, he added, because they are the people benefiting from the post-secondary system.
David Paradis, the president of the Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec, flatly rejected the logic used by the Liberals when they devised the proposal.

“It’s totally irresponsible. They haven’t made any kind of evaluation of the impact it would have. They didn’t evaluate the cost of the implementation,” said Paradis.

He claimed that if the proposal becomes government policy, between 32,000 and 50,000 students who otherwise would have pursued post-secondary studies simply will not. The numbers, he said, are based on a study conducted by Quebec’s Ministry of Education.

FÉUQ would rather see a dedicated federal transfer for post-secondary education fill Quebec’s funding gap. There is a $4-billion shortfall in funding nationally, Paradis said, and $1 billion of that applies to Quebec. He said further that FÉUQ wants all sectors of the province to sit down and create a long-term vision for education in the province, which could include a push for more private donations from university alumni.

Beaudry said that Paradis’ calls for more government funding are short-sighted.

“We shouldn’t think that everything should be paid by the government. And this is what should change in Quebec. Everything is over-funded, everyone is overprotected, and what happens ultimately is you think that everything is due to you,” he said. We’re in a world where there is strong competition … and waiting for the government to do everything is a big problem.”

This is not the first time that Liberal youth in Quebec have proposed for fee increases, as they initially called for a tuition de-freeze in September 2006. Quebec Premier Jean Charest did end the freeze and proposed a $100-a-year increase over five years ending in 2012 as a first step in tackling underfunded schools.

Young Liberals in Quebec hold one-third of the votes at provincial party conventions.

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