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Quebec tuition fees

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In light of plans by the Charest government to increase tuition fees in Quebec by 75 per cent over the next five years, Eric Martin and Simon Tremblay-Pepin have written a recent article on Quebec tuition fees. (The hyperlink I've provided is for the French-language version of the article, but I'm told that the English-language version will be available online very shortly.)

The article points out the following:

- Though tuition fees in Quebec have been lower than in most other parts of Canada, this has come with clear benefits for Quebec. First, lower tuition fees likely contribute to the fact that post-secondary participation in Quebec is roughly 9 per cent higher than in the rest of Canada.

(Ergo: raising tuition fees would likely result in lower post-secondary participation.)

- Second, student debt has been much lower in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. According to the article:

"In 2009 the average amount of debt for students enrolled in their final year of a bachelor's degree program who took out student loans was $15,102 in Quebec -- versus $25,778 in Ontario and the overall Canadian average of $26,680."

(Ergo: raising tuition rates in Quebec would almost certainly result in increases in student debt levels.)

- Keeping in mind that Quebec tuition fees have been increasing for several years already, the recently-announced plan would result in tuition fees by 2017 that are 127 per cent greater than 10 years previously.

- The defunding of universities in Quebec has been occurring much as it has occurred in the rest of Canada. In 1988, 87 per cent of funding for Quebec universities came from government funding. Today, that figure stands at roughly 66 per cent. The shortfall has been made up by both increased tuition fees (which exacerbate inequities between students) and increased private-sector funding (which often comes with conditions that can compromise academic freedom).

- Quebec's provincial government is trying to encourage universities to leverage more private-sector funding, but Martin and Tremlay-Pepin point out that private-sector funding advantages Quebec's English-language universities over the province's French-language universities. For example, while McGill, Concordia and Bishop's account for just one-quarter of all universities students in the province, they receive almost half of all private-sector donations.

The Charest government has a point in arguing that tuition fees in Quebec are considerably lower than in most other parts of Canada. But Martin and Tremblay-Pepin do an effective job of pointing out that this has come with many benefits for Quebec.

Ergo: if it ain't broken, don't fix it!

Or, as they say in Quebec: tant que ça marche on ne touche à rien!

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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