Quebec tuition hike already has some out-of-province students weighing alternatives

Hundreds of teenagers and their families packed into Concordia University’s downtown Montreal campus on Saturday to attend the school’s fall open house.

Despite the high turnout, Concordia director of student recruitment Savvy Papayiannis was left with the impression that the crowd was smaller than in previous years.

“It’s not busier, that’s for sure,” Papayiannis said over the phone from the event. She couldn’t confirm attendance figures, but concluded, “I feel like there’s a drop in attendance.”

Papayiannis said her office is already seeing the impact of Quebec’s decision to raise university tuition for out-of province students starting next fall, with many people cancelling campus tours or withdrawing from recruitment events.

And ever since the Oct. 13 announcement by the provincial government, calls and emails have been rolling in from worried prospective students, she said, many of whom say the tuition hike — from $8,992 to around $17,000 per year for Canadians outside Quebec — is an insurmountable financial barrier.

“We’re getting slammed more and more every day,” Papayiannis said.

‘I don’t think it’s fair’ 

Several high schoolers at the open house said the increase will influence their decisions about university. For 17-year old Gage Crouchman from Ottawa, that might mean giving up on going to school in Quebec.

“It’s a shame,” he lamented. “[For] a lot of students, it’s going to take Montreal off as an option.”

Crouchman was considering Concordia and nearby McGill University for his undergraduate studies. “If they change it, it’s a possibility,” he said, referring to the government’s decision to impose the tuition hike.

“If not …” Crouchman trailed off. “It’s definitely no,” his father, Cameron, interjected.

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Coco Clement, a 17-year-old who travelled from Vancouver to Montreal to visit Concordia, said the new tuition rate makes her less interested in Quebec because of the additional financial burden.

“It’s extremely expensive and makes it so I don’t want to come here as much just because that’s another thing I have to get over,” said Clement.

Kees Lokker and his father, Jaco, from Grimsby, Ont., said their family would be able to afford the new tuition, but the younger Lokker worried the sum will eliminate opportunities for his friends.

“It’s just going to make it even more difficult for them to … get enough money to go to Concordia, or even a university like McGill,” the 16-year-old said.

He’s considering the renowned engineering and aerospace programs in Quebec, but his father said the increase will encourage them to explore other options in Ontario, the U.S. and Europe.

An undergraduate tuition rate of approximately $17,000 would be among the highest in the country for domestic students, and the highest outside specialized undergraduate law, management, dentistry, medicine, veterinary medicine and pharmacy programs, according to preliminary data from Statistics Canada for the 2023-24 academic year.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Jaco Lokker, pointing to tuition rates in other provinces.

Quebec defends move

Quebec has said the increase will allow it to recoup the cost of non-Quebec residents’ education. The provincial government also plans to charge universities $20,000 for each international student they recruit.

Premier François Legault has defended the move, insisting Quebec taxpayers should not have to subsidize students from outside the province.

The measure is expected to mostly affect Quebec’s three English-language universities — Concordia, McGill and Bishop’s — which welcome more non-Quebecers than French schools. Government officials have cited what they claim is a decline of French in the province in their decision to raise tuition.

Legault said Tuesday that the influx of anglophone students “threatens the survival of French.”

Quebec has committed to reinvesting its recuperated funds into the francophone university network.

Protest planned

Students and staff from Montreal’s two English universities, Concordia and McGill, are being called upon to skip class on Monday, Oct. 30, to take part in a march against the tuition hike. 

Alex O’Neill, a second-year student in the faculty of arts program at McGill University, is co-organizing the protest, set for 1 p.m. 

Protesters are expected to march from Dorchester Square to McGill University’s Roddick Gates.

O’Neill says the head of the student union at Université du Québec à Montréal confirmed Sunday that its members will join the protest in solidarity and spread the word to students and staff. Université de Montréal hasn’t yet gotten back to him. 

“I think what that ultimately tells us is that this very much is not entirely a language issue. The fact that I have been able to bridge this gap very easily with the French institutions as a McGill student shows that this is much more [of] an economic issue,” he said.

O’Neill says international and out-of-province students are an essential part of not only the province’s economic framework, but also the city’s social and cultural fabric. 

He says the move will create an insular society within Quebec academia, and that negative impact will trickle down on the city of Montreal. 

“If we do want to actually sustain business, if we want to sustain economic and environmental development, we’re not going to maintain this if we are going to have a nationalistic, very narrow box that will define who we can let in … to define the future of Quebec society.” 

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