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The financial situation of Quebec universities continues to deteriorate. Since 1993-1994, public funding of the university network in Quebec has been slashed by hundreds of millions of dollars. These cuts gravely imperil the quality of education provided to the new generation of Quebecers as well as the quality of research conducted in our universities. In this respect, Quebec is at cross-purposes with the demands and opportunities of the emerging knowledge-based society. All Quebecers are concerned about this and have demonstrated their concern repeatedly in recent months. There is now general agreement that our universities are currently being underfunded by approximately 600 million dollars per year.
On the eve of the Quebec Youth Summit and the tabling of the provincial budget, the students and the administrations of the Université de Montréal and McGill University are united in condemning this situation and stressing the urgency of immediate action. It is essential that the government of Quebec act rapidly to reinvest at least 600 million dollars annually in higher education to ensure that Quebec universities are provided with resources and means comparable to those available to other Canadian universities.
The risk of a dramatic decline in the quality of education in the medium and long term is greater than ever. Both the Université de Montréal and McGill University have already lost a considerable number of top-rated professors to the faculties of other Canadian and foreign universities. Indeed, these institutions are able to offer working conditions, and teaching and research environments well beyond the means of the two Montreal universities. Moreover, to deal with funding cuts, the Université de Montréal and McGill University have been forced to reduce the size of their faculties. Over the past six years, more than 400 faculty positions has been eliminated at these universities alone. In certain disciplines, the shortage of professors has resulted in a reduction in the number of courses in key subjects, while other disciplines have been almost eliminated. It follows that the number of students per course has increased considerably, while support provided to students at all levels is increasingly lacking.
This holds true for teaching support services and resources, which have been seriously compromised in terms of both number and quality. Libraries are being depleted, and computer equipment is becoming insufficient and out-of-date. As for laboratories, they will soon be obsolete if nothing is done. These examples do not only indicate the disturbing situation at our universities; they are also signs of the deteriorating ability of these institutions to adequately fulfill their missions of educating and preparing the next generation of Quebecers.
University research will also be affected in the not too distant future. A smaller faculty also means a less diverse pool of researchers, fewer areas of research and, in the medium and long term, diminishing results. The conditions for university research are sometimes inappropriate and non-stimulating. Grants provided by provincial and federal funding bodies do not always cover all the costs of research, especially infrastructure costs. It is necessary that action be taken to ensure that the research of today will bear fruit tomorrow.
Quebec, through its elected representatives in the National Assembly, must make the commitment to invest in its future. A highly skilled workforce and a wealth of diverse, quality research are essential to Quebec's future socioeconomic development.
The issue of tuition fees has also been raised. In this regard, we support the recommendation of the Quebec Youth Summit working group "Parfaire le savoir et la formation" to the effect that an in-depth examination of the accessibility of education must first be undertaken as part of the work of the advisory committee of the Ministry of Education. We also note that the government has promised to maintain tuition fees at present levels for the duration of its current mandate. However, we urge the government to act consistently with its promise. Education Minister François Legault cannot be permitted to draw comparisons between Quebec universities and those in the rest of Canada solely on the basis of government funding. He must also consider the total amount available per student. If tuition fees are to remain relatively low, government funding must compensate for the resultant shortfall.
Quebec must open itself to the world. This is essential for a society whose collective well-being depends on expanding growth in North America and around the world. If Quebec is truly concerned about its future, it has no choice but to equip itself with the resources required to assume its place in the international knowledge society. Quebec's capacity to act on the world stage depends on the quality of the education provided to the students of today. We cannot hope to keep pace with the rest of world unless we make a major reinvestment in our network of universities. That's why we — students, rector, and principal and vice-chancellor of the Université de Montréal and McGill University — insist that the Government of Quebec make such an investment now.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill
President of the Student Society, McGill
Rector, Université de Montréal
Federation of the Student Associations of the Campus of the Université de Montréal
This op-ed has also been published in La Presse, Le Devoir and The Gazette.