Quebec tuition to rise $325 a year for 5 years

Provincial budget also includes increased funding for universities

The Quebec government tabled its provincial budget today. As expected, tuition in the province, currently the lowest in Canada, will increase.

Tuition fees will rise by $325 a year, over five years, beginning in fall 2012. The increase will bring the cost of full-time studies to $3,793 per year, for Quebec residents. Full-time students currently pay $2,168 a year.

While the timing is a little different, the increase is pretty much exactly what the heads of the province’s universities have been asking for.

Predictably, student groups have condemned the increase. The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, the more radical of Quebec’s two main student lobby groups, described the budget as a “declaration of war against students.”

Quebec’s Finance Minister, Raymond Bachand, told the National Assembly that the increase will return tuition fees to 1968 levels, adjusted for inflation. Tuition fees in the province have been frozen for 33 of the past 43 years. Even after the full increase, Quebec’s tuition rates will still be 30 per cent lower than the current Canadian average, according to Bachand.

University administrators seem to be pleased with the budget, which also includes new provincial funding and measures to encourage private donations to universities.

According to Bachand, the province’s universities will have access to an additional $850 million in annual funding by 2016-17, though that figure includes an estimated increase in donations, so it may not be exactly accurate. Direct provincial funding is set to increase over the next six years, starting with a $74 million increase this year and reaching $430 million in additional funding for 2016-17.

Student aid funding is also set to increase. Student loans will remain the same and all new aid will come in the form of bursaries. The province is also reducing the contribution that parents are expected to make in student aid calculations but the student lobby has criticized this, saying that it’s really just a cost of living adjustment.

The province also intends to establish “performance targets [for universities] regarding the quality of training, student services, the graduation rate and the intensification of their research activities” as well as financial management.

All in all, it’s a very middle of the road Jean Charest government budget. Quebec’s left is criticizing things like the tuition increases for going too far, while the right is criticizing them for not going far enough.

The other key take-away is that most of the big spending that was announced today isn’t actually scheduled to happen for several years. So while the government may be saying that they’re going to increase university funding by $430 million, the funding increases won’t even be close to that level for years. Unlike tuition fees which are scheduled to increase at a steady rate, the increase in university funding starts off slowly, with the biggest jump planned for 2014-2015.

My final thought on the budget, and this is a bit of an aside, is that despite its faults, the Quebec government does an excellent job of making public documents easily available online. By 4 p.m., the time Bachand’s speech to the National Assembly began, all the budget documents were available online in English and French.

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