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Two minutes on accessibility and perseverance

Prof. Heather Munroe-Blum
Feb. 25, 2013, delivered at Quebec's Sommet sur l'enseignement supérieur

Everyone in this room shares the desire to open our universities to as many students as possible

But how do we get there? By what means?

Free tuition or freezing tuition fees? Lowering admission standards? Or placing a higher value on education, from daycare to university?

Let’s be frank: the quebec experience with low tuition fees has not worked.

  • The quebec graduation rate is lower than the canadian average and below the average for oecd countries.
  • The university access rate for families who earn less than $25,000 is 18% in quebec compared to 39% in ontario.

The real obstacles to accessibility are family history, the social and cultural environment, parents’ expectations, marks in elementary and high school, and convincing low-income students that they can succeed in university.

Studies show that an effective access policy must be based on four pillars:

  1. A higher level of awareness and more supervision of students at the elementary and high school levels;
  2. More generous financial aid programs for access to university;
  3. Better support programs for students once they are enrolled in university;
  4. And the most important thing, intensity of university studies - in other words, an environment in which students are engaged in studies on a full-time basis.

A university is not a factory. Students who enter university do not necessarily leave with a degree.

Therefore we need to work on perseverance and the graduation rate, not only access. What is access worth if there is no degree?

We share the government’s concern about the question of the graduation rate of first-generation students  and those with low incomes. We are ready to work on this. 

However, we hold to the principle that the money must follow the student, not the institution. This is extremely important.

What we need is better programs and additional resources for the universities. To ensure better support for students who need it, whether they are first generation or not, wherever they may come from and wherever they are studying.

An additional comment on the question of students who come from outside quebec, which is very important.

They are a great asset for quebec. We believe that it is time to revisit our system in this regard.

The “forfaitaire” system of financing is disadvantegeous for those universities which welcome or which want to welcome more students from outside quebec. 

We believe that the tuition paid by these students should stay to support them at the universities which welcome them.

These students have particular needs, and their tuition should be used to respond to those needs. 

Everyone in Quebec agrees on the principle that no student who has the desire and ability to go to university should be prevented from doing so for financial reasons.

Despite the lowest tuition fees in canada, we are not achieving that objective.

But we must be clear on our target. The level of tuition fees is not the right target when we speak of accessibility or quality - and certainly not when we speak of both together!

We must all do our part and we must apply our efforts in the right place.