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Keeping education accessible | Raising tuition responsibly
Boosting student aid | We need more graduates
Are we creeping toward American-style tuition?


Keeping education accessible

McGill is academically elite—you need very good grades to attend. But every qualified student who wants to go to McGill deserves to do so without worrying about cost.  

To help, we've dramatically increased the amount of student aid we offer at McGill. From 2003-04 to 2011-12, we've increased funds for undergraduate bursaries by a massive 253%.

Won't raising tuition create financial barriers to education?

Not if we do it right—by balancing tuition increases with more financial aid for students who need it. And actually, most reputable studies show that access to university doesn’t have much to do with tuition—social barriers are far more decisive than financial factors.

Differences in long-term factors such as standardized test scores in reading obtained at age 15, school marks reported at age 15, parental influences, and high-school quality account for 84% of the gap [in university attendance between low- and high-income youth]. In contrast, only 12% of the gap is related to financial constraints.

– Marc Frenette, Why Are Youth from Lower-Income Families Less Likely To Attend University? Statistics Canada, 2007. Page 23.

The true cost of attending university also includes giving up full-time job income and paying for living expenses, books, etc. That’s why generous student aid is absolutely necessary. And for lower-income students who are Quebec residents, tuition is already free—because the government pays for it through bursaries.

Isn't low tuition fairer? 

Looked at through a different lens, very low tuition can be seen as socially unjust. University students tend to come from high-income families, and they reap financial rewards from their education. Instead of asking them to pay their fair share, low tuition uses everyone’s taxes—whether their household income is $20,000 or $20,000,000—to subsidize their education.

Then how can we improve access?

If we really want to make university more accessible, we need to address the real barriers—family background, parental and societal expectations, family education levels and high school grades—and convince lower-income students that they can succeed in university. Many students have decided whether or not they will attend university by Grade 9. 

“All the work we have done to date has led us to conclude that an effective access policy must have three pillars:

  1. Better outreach to and preparation of students well before they reach post-secondary education;
  2. More effective student financial assistance programs;
  3. Improved support programs for students once they have enrolled in post-secondary education.”

The Price of Knowledge, 4th Edition, Millennium Scholarship Foundation, 2009. Page 210.

What about student aid? Quebecers want university to be affordable.

We want affordable education too. If tuition rates increase, student aid must increase as well, to make sure everyone can afford to study.

Students also need financial and other support to ensure they graduate. More funding will increase support to students—and provide a high-quality education that will allow graduates to adapt to a changing job market throughout their lives.

Despite years of low tuition, Quebec ranks seventh among ten provinces in terms of the percentage of young people who graduate with a university degree. 

Years of underfunding have made it impossible to give all our students the help they need—both to begin their studies and to complete them—but the tuition increases announced by the Quebec government in 2012 would have provided much-needed relief. Fully 25% of recent tuition increases in Quebec has gone back into student aid for Quebecers, and at McGill another 30% of net new tuition goes into financial support for students.1 The tuition increase, and the injection of student aid money that it would have brought, could have made a big difference. But the cancellation of that increase has hurt our ability to support our students, and puts us right back where we started: underfunded universities and insufficient financial aid.

Do we really need more graduates?

Job growth for university graduates in Canada well outpaces that for all other levels of education2—even in a tough economy. From July 2008 to July 2012, new jobs for university graduates increased by 700,000, compared to 320,000 new jobs for college grads. Meanwhile, the available jobs for those with no post-secondary education decreased by more than 640,000.3

The Canadian government doesn’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon. They estimate that 75% of new jobs in the coming decade will require post-secondary education, and some 2 million jobs will be created for university graduates by 2020.

The jobs of the future will demand advanced skills and the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions, and the societies that aim to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century—China, India, the Scandinavian countries and others—are going to great lengths to increase their university graduation rates. Unless we want to be left far behind, Quebec must do the same.

Won't raising tuition bring us closer to an unaffordable American model?

No one is proposing an American-style model. The long-held position of CREPUQ and McGill is that Quebec’s universities—and Quebec society—would benefit from tuition that matches the Canadian average.

All decisions about tuition will be made within the context of what Quebec’s citizens and government decide is acceptable and what students are willing and able to pay.


1. McGill sets aside 30% of net new tuition increases from out-of-province and international students for student aid, and 5% of net new tuition increases from Quebec students, as 25% already goes into the Quebec student aid program.
2. http://www.aucc.ca/media-room/news-and-commentary/we-need-university-grads/
3. http://www.aucc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/quick-facts-back-to-school-2012.pdf