McGill presents to parliament

McGill presents to parliament McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 19, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 11
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > February 19, 2004 > McGill presents to parliament

McGill presents to parliament

Research-intensive universities can sustain high standards and even raise tuition fees without negatively affecting student accessibility. That was the core of the message given to provincial politicians as McGill presented its ideas on improving the way Quebec universities are funded

On Tuesday, McGill discussed the brief it had deposited to the Commission parlementaire sur la qualité, l'accessibilité et le financement des universities, a public hearing taking place in Quebec City. McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, Provost Luc Vinet and Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky detailed the need for changes to the current system and were subsequently questioned by Quebec Education Minister Pierre Reid and other members of the National Assembly's Commission sitting around the four large boardroom tables.

"The current policy for funding universities in Quebec is simply not sustainable because it does not yield adequate levels of accessibility or sustained quality," Munroe-Blum told the members of the Commission as well as the public observers.

While the education minister has called to continue the decade-long tuition fee freeze, Munroe-Blum says keeping the tuition down will not increase the numbers of Quebecers studying at university. "In Quebec, some people argue that low tuition fees enhance access to higher education. Yet, it is interesting to note that despite having the lowest tuition fees in Canada, the proportion of Quebecers who attend and who complete university is below the Canadian average."

While Vinet went on to describe many of McGill's accomplishments, including distinguishing itself as Canada's research university of the year and being ranked number two in the Maclean's rankings of medical and doctoral universities, he told the Commission that much of McGill has suffered due to funding shortfalls in a system that has put Quebec universities behind their Canadian counterparts by $375 million a year for the past decade.

Provost Vinet said buildings and classrooms are in need of repairs, library collections need updating, adequate financial aid is being given to too few academically qualified students and the university is losing or missing out on talented graduate students and faculty because of uncompetitive or unstable levels of support.

McGill has taken the position that in order to improve quality, universities should have the freedom to tap other financial sources, prompting the Principal to call for the government to encourage a more philanthropic environment. She cited a successful example of a gift-matching program the former Ontario Conservative government instituted that matched, dollar for dollar, fundraising efforts by the province's universities and found surprising success from smaller regional universities. It has even been emulated by the current Ontario Liberal government.

Munroe-Blum said government support alone will not solve the current problem of underfunding. "There is no jurisdiction in the world where the public purse is deep enough to support, all by itself, a university system to achieve a simultaneous mandate of excellent quality and accessibility. Not in Europe, not in Asia, not in the South, not in North America."

McGill says the setting of student tuition and other fees needs to be moved from the domain of government to universities. It maintains in its brief that direct government support should continue to provide the core of university operating budgets but says higher tuition fees, combined with improved student financial aid, as well as with federal research grants and graduate student support, will help to improve quality and accessibility.

Talking to The Reporter, the Principal reiterated the need for that support. "Any rises in tuition fees have to absolutely be tied into a rising level of student aid," she said, adding that she was happy the Charest government, by convening the Commission, was taking university financing seriously.

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