Why aren’t we talking about differentiated fees?

Calls for Quebec to charge different rates for different programs hardly being talked about in the wake of education summit

As I mentioned a few days ago, the Quebec government had a big summit on the future of universities in the province on Dec. 6. While the discussion was pretty far reaching much of it, and most of the attention paid to the meeting, was focused on the upcoming tuition increases.

But one of the big questions hanging over future of tuition in Quebec hardly seems to have come up, the question of differentiated tuition.

Back in late August and early September, when university administrators were presenting to the National Assembly’s education and culture committee, administrators from both McGill and the Université de Montréal made a big deal about the issue but hardly anything has been said in public since.

Right now, all university students in Quebec pay the same per-credit fee no matter what they’re studying or what level they’re at. But there have been calls, especially from some university administrators, for that to change. Their argument is that since some programs cost more to teach, students should pay a larger share of that cost. According to Université de Montréal rector, Guy Breton, students in veterinary medicine pay just five per cent of the cost of education, while students in literature pay 40 per cent. There’s also the argument that since some carriers lead to higher salaries, students in those programs should pay more.

But even university administrators are divided on the issue. At the same time as McGill and U de M were calling for differentiated tuition, Claude Corbo, rector of the Université du Québec à Montréal told the education and culture committee that expected salary shouldn’t be relevant, since graduates with higher salaries will pay more taxes — no matter what program they studied in.

Even with flat tuition some programs — like medicine — are already drawing a particularly small number of students from low-income backgrounds. According to Breton, only five per cent of medical students at U de M come from poor backgrounds, while 45 per cent of medical students have backgrounds among the richest 20 per cent of the population.

The government hasn’t said much on the issue but they have sent some mixed messages. When McGill “privatized” their executive MBA program — refusing provincial funding for the program and increasing tuition to over $20,000 — the provincial government condemned the move, but they haven’t actually taken any action.

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