Quebec’s Political Choice: More on University Tuition in Canada

National Post recently published a set of graphs looking at tuition levels in Canada, by province and by area of study. The trigger for these new data, of course, was the student crisis in Quebec, which continues to make headlines not just across Canada, but around the world. At the core of students’ fight with their provincial government (a section of the student population, not necessarily a majority of them!) is a proposed tuition fee hike over the next few years.

Most observers of the developments in Quebec, including this author, have indicated that tuition fees for university studies in Quebec are roughly half what students in the rest of Canada pay for their post-secondary education. (For more detailed facts and observations on university tuition in Canada’s overwhelmingly Francophone province click here). According to National Post figures, for a four-year undergraduate degree, the annual tuition is on average $2,519 in Quebec, compared with $5,853 in New Brunswick or $6,640 in Ontario. Only Newfoundland & Labrador – with its $2,649 annual tuition – can somewhat match Quebec’s low tuition levels (at Canadian standards). The tuition fees reflect 2011-2012 data.

English: Québec Province within Canada. Españo...

English: Québec Province within Canada. Español: Provincia de Quebec en Canadá. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The difference between Quebec and other Canadian provinces is even more dramatic though when one looks at tuition levels for specific areas of study. Take medicine, pharmacy and dentistry, for instance. While Quebec students pay $2,711/year for a medical degree, their counterparts in British Columbia pay $15,766 and in Ontario $19,462. A $2,284 annual tuition in pharmacy in Quebec becomes $8,975 in Nova Scotia and $23,144 in Ontario. The figures for dentistry are even more dramatic: while studies in this discipline cost $3,175 yearly in Quebec, they cost $26,406 in Ontario and $32,960 in Saskatchewan – a tenfold gradient!

Equally interesting however, and relevant to the discussion on provincial tuition levels, is the contribution to university operating budgets from (i) government funding, (ii) students, through tuition, and (iii) other sources. The percentage from tuition is one of the lowest in Quebec amongst Canadian provinces (17%). Only Saskatchewan at 16% and Newfoundland & Labrador at 9% have lower contributions – compare those figures with 33% in New Brunswick and 35% in Ontario. The Quebec government’s contribution to university operating budgets, on the other hand, is one of the highest in Canada, at 70% (it stands at 77% in Newfoundland & Labrador). This is in stark contract with government contributions of 49% in New Brunswick and 52% in Ontario.

What all this list of numbers boils down to, in the end, is political choice. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – or free university education, for that matter. In the end, someone needs to pay for the quality education students receive in Canada. This is the crux of the matter and there’s no right or wrong answer: who and to what extent should share that burden? As any Political Science student will tell you, life’s often a series of political struggles and decisions, with the more determined, more articulate and stronger advocates of one position or another being able to impose their preferences upon the rest.

In Quebec’s students vs. government fight both parties seem to be formidable opponents. Both are using compelling arguments for why tuition fees should go up or should rather stay at the current levels (inflation-indexed perhaps) and both are trying to increase their share of supporters. What started as an inconspicuous clash over financial contributions has become, over the past 3+ months, a complex political debate, with ramifications beyond Quebec proper. The choice Quebec makes will inform, if not define, the conversation on university issues in this province (and beyond) for years to come.

Campus Visit: Université Laval, Quebec City

Spring is a great time to visit Université Laval, North America`s oldest French-language post-secondary institution. A short drive or bus ride west from Vieux Québec – the city`s renowned historic neighbourhood – Laval is welcoming you with its dozens of modern buildings, large green spaces, botanical gardens, sports fields – and a multi-cultural student population. (In Quebec`s typically cold winters, students can walk between campus buildings through a complex network of underground pedestrian tunnels, over five km long).

Flag of Laval University, Quebec City. Françai...

Flag of Laval University, Quebec City. Français : Drapeau de l’Université Laval, Québec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students call Laval their university. With its 18 faculties and schools – ranging from dentistry to forestry to theology – U. Laval is an appealing and relatively accessible choice for many French-speaking persons from the Province of Quebec (the vast majority of them), the rest of Canada, and around the world.

Well-known for its Rouge-et-Or varsity sports, Laval`s football team (men) is particularly celebrated for having won the most Vanier Cups (the championship of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football): six times, a tie with U. of Western Ontario Mustangs. Laval has one of Canada`s largest sports complexes and students participate in various sporting and non-athletic competitions, such as Concrete Canoe, International Tractor and Force Avenir.

400+ academic programs (roughly half undergraduate and half graduate), hundreds of distance learning courses, and three education profiles (entrepreneurial, cooperative, and international) make U. Laval an institution catering to a wide range of student needs. This is one of its strongest features – and perhaps its Achilles’ heel as well.

In the latest (2012) Maclean`s ranking Laval takes the 12th spot in Canadian “medical and doctoral” universities (a category of post-secondary institutions offering a broad range of research and doctoral programs, including medical schools). In the national reputational ranking Laval places 18th (this ranking combines all medical doctoral, comprehensive, and primarily undergraduate universities in Canada). In its category, Laval scores 8th on total research dollars (a plus repeatedly emphasized by university officials) and 10th on student awards.

Laval`s vision is “to become one of the best universities in the world.” Its model, however, to “[give] all members of its community the chance to grow, develop their potential, and establish themselves in an […] institutional setting” may prevent it from achieving that very worthy goal. Laval is one of Quebec`s better and larger post-secondary institutions – notable alumni include three Prime Ministers of Canada and seven provincial Premiers – but its all-encompassing community mandate is what seems to be holding it back.

To truly become a top Canadian and world university, Laval will need to revisit fundamental principles – to move away from a Quebec-centred mission and promote more forcefully its many strengths on the national and international post-secondary education market. It will also need to focus more strategically on a fewer number of academic specializations, closely coordinated with its research programs.

Until this transformation happens, Laval may not be one of the world`s leading universities – a Caltech, Harvard or Stanford – but it definitely continues to be an attractive choice for Québécois and international Francophone students. In its French-speaking niche, Laval offers rich educational options in a lovely (albeit somewhat cold) city. Tip: enjoy the sun and the warm weather while it lasts – you`ll notice, the locals follow this rule religiously.

Quebec Government Tables Emergency Law to End Student Strikes

In the aftermath of student protesters storming the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), on May 16, 2012, the Quebec Government announced emergency legislation to restore order. This follows over three months of protests over proposed tuition hikes,

Français : Jean Charest après la cérémonie du ...

Français : Jean Charest après la cérémonie du jour du souvenir 2010 à Québec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

affecting the activity of many Quebec colleges and universities. The Charest government will suspend classes in institutions that are on strike; students will be able to return in August in order to complete their school year.

“Nobody can pretend to defend access to education and then block the doors of a CEGEP or university […] I expect all those in a position of leadership to assume that responsibility, whether they are students, teachers or union activists […] There is no reason for anyone to use violence and intimidation,” Charest said.


Some Facts about Athletic Prospects at Canadian Universities

Over 10,000 university students from across Canada participate, each year, in 12 national sporting competitions: basketball, cross-country running, curling, field hockey (women’s), football (men’s), ice hockey, rugby union (women’s), soccer, swimming, indoor track & field, volleyball, and wrestling.

These competitions, resulting in National Championship titles, comprise up to 3,000 events every university year, during the Fall and Winter terms.

The organization responsible for these events is the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), “the national governing body of university sport in Canada, comprising the majority of degree granting universities in the country.” Its name in French is Sport interuniversitaire canadien (SIC).

The best student athletes attend, every two years, World University Games and “compete with the best from around the globe in 12 sporting disciplines at the Summer Games and 7 sporting disciplines at the Winter Games.” Some of them earn spots in professional leagues such as the Canadian Football League (CFL), the [US] National Football League (NFL), the [Canada-US] National Hockey League (NHL), etc.

Canadian universities offer scholarships to student athletes that may cover the value of tuition and compulsory fees. In addition, students may receive non-athletic scholarships based on academic merit and/or special needs. They receive sport medical and paramedical support, and have access to therapy and counselling services. There are also provincial and national sources of financial support (e.g., the federal government’s Athlete Assistance Program, administered by Sport Canada), plus awards from private and not-for-profit organizations and municipal governments.

Some athletes considering a university scholarship apply to US institutions, where the main governing body for university sport is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Athletic programs are seen as a very significant part of the post-secondary education in the United States and US universities work closely with the NCAA to provide opportunities for students and enhance the schools’ overall reputation.

The CIS and Athletics Canada (the sport governing body for track and field) recently prepared an information guide for university-bound student athletes and their parents and coaches, indicating that “it is becoming increasingly evident that for many the ‘Canadian option’ is the best.” They list a number of arguments to support this position, by looking at factors such as location, financial support opportunities and students’ goals (athletic and academic).

The CIS and Athletics Canada point to several facts in their assessment: “athletes in Canada have 5 years of eligibility” (4 years in the US), “have greater control of performance objectives,” and have access to programs that “offer a good balance between athletic and academic challenges.” In addition, tuition in Canada is less expensive than in the United States (in many cases significantly less expensive!) and is tax deductible (some scholarships in the US are considered income).

From Thompson Rivers U. (WolfPacks) and U. of Alberta (Golden Bears/Pandas) in the West to Carleton U. (Ravens) and U. Laval (Rouge-et-Or) in the East to Dalhousie U. (Tigers) and Memorial U. (Sea-Hawks) in Atlantic Canada, varsity sports are an important part of the Canadian university experience – granted, not on the same scale and having the same level of visibility as in the United States.

Canada Places 3rd in 2012 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems

A recent study by Universitas 21 rated national systems of higher education and placed Canada on 3rd place worldwide, after the United States and Sweden. The measures for the analysis were grouped under four main headings: resources, enviornment, connectivity, and outputs. The Executive Summary points out that:

[a] nation’s economic development depends crucially on the presence of an educated and skilled workforce and on technological improvements that raise productivity. The higher education sector contributes to both these needs: it educates and trains; it undertakes pure and applied research. Furthermore, in a globalised world, a quality higher education system that is well-connected internationally facilitates the introduction of new ideas, and fosters trade and other links with foreign countries, through the movement of students and researchers across national frontiers.

The full report can be found here.