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Four universities launch an appeal to resolve underfunding

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Published: 7 Feb 2007

Concrete solutions proposed by Université Laval, McGill University, Université de Montréal and Université de Sherbrooke.

Concrete solutions proposed by Université Laval, McGill University, Université de Montréal and Université de Sherbrooke.

The heads of four Quebec research-intensive universities with faculties of medicine are proposing principles they believe should serve as guidelines for the Quebec government in the search for a lasting solution to the chronic underfunding that afflicts Quebec universities.

Rectors Bruno-Marie Béchard of Université de Sherbrooke, Michel Pigeon of Université Laval, Luc Vinet of Université de Montréal and Principal Heather Munroe-Blum of McGill University assert that the quality and accessibility of the universities are essential to Quebec’s development. They propose a reinvestment plan to catch up with the average of other Canadian universities and the creation of a non-recurrent emergency fund of about $500 million in the very near future to repair and upgrade aging buildings.

Sharing an accurate diagnosis

The reality of the underfunding of Quebec universities is well known and documented: its effects can be felt on every campus, and it is especially acute at universities with faculties of medicine. "It’s time to take action," said Luc Vinet, rector of Université de Montréal. "Our students must have access to the best education possible, and our professors must be able to develop their full potential. In short, Quebec should be able to enjoy the same advantages for success as other highly advanced societies."

As McGill's principal, Heather Munroe-Blum, points out, Quebec universities run the risk of being marginalized: "While growing investments are being made in university education and scientific research elsewhere in the country, Quebec is losing ground. If nothing is done, the gap will only continue to widen. Reinvestment will benefit our students, our primary raison d'être."

While they applaud the Quebec government's recent investments in the university network of $60 million annually on a recurrent basis and $60 million non-recurring over two years, the rectors explain that these amounts will only serve to bring funding back to where it was 20 years ago, when calculated on a per student basis.

The situation in research is just as critical. While Quebec's position has deteriorated in all areas of university research, it is the health sector that has taken the biggest hit. In the early 1990s, Quebec universities received more than one third of the Canadian total in health research spending: today, it is only one quarter.

The new research and innovation strategy recently launched by the Quebec government will partially resolve the problem of research underfunding. The rectors congratulate the government for this enlightened move to position Quebec among innovative and prosperous societies.

Reinvesting on a realistic basis

In the North American context, governments can no longer pick up the tab for higher education alone. The rectors believe that the key to competitiveness lies in redressing tuition fees in the very near future. The universities are committed to expanding their financial aid programs accordingly.

Bruno-Marie Béchard, rector of Université de Sherbrooke, believes this reinvestment is both realistic and necessary: "We owe it to future generations to take measures to safeguard their standard of living in a world of profound social, cultural and economic change."

The rectors have identified three new revenue sources for the government: re-establishment of federal transfers for post-secondary education, a review of the way equalization payments are calculated and the anticipated freeing up of one percentage point of the sales tax by the federal government, tax room that could be filled by the Quebec government.

"All heads of educational institutions support the Quebec government in its efforts to secure reinvestment in postsecondary education from the federal government," said Michel Pigeon, rector of Université Laval. And yet, federal transfers, which apply to all provinces, will not narrow the gap that exists with other, better-funded Canadian universities.

If they are given the means to do so, universities will be able to contribute to meeting the challenges of an advanced society. Universities are committed to the quality of teaching, research and student services. They will make every effort to re-establish the participation rate in post-secondary education, and a degree completion rate that is well above the Canadian average.

Céline Poissant
Media relations officer
McGill University
514-398-6752

Contact Information

Contact: Sophie Langlois
Organization: Université de Montréal
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