With the inflation of grocery prices, housing rent, and other necessities, the financial struggles of Canadian university students are troubling. On average, the majority of current university students will graduate with large amounts of debt, taking years after graduation to pay it off. As the price of education outpaces the cost of living, this generation is said to suffer from more anxiety about money, affecting their grades, future career plans, and lifestyles. The Financial Post reports that most students surveyed confess to cutting necessities from their lives to afford their studies, with these difficulties pushing some to consider dropping out altogether. In light of these statistics, October 13, 2023, presented some terrifying news for many current and aspiring Canadian university students. The government of Québec announced plans to double yearly tuition fees for out-of-province English-speaking students at their three anglophone universities: McGill, Concordia, and Bishop’s. This change would effectively raise the tuition for non-Québec Canadian students from $9,000 to $17,000 per year, with tuition for international students rising as high as $20,000. The funding model included a five-year buffer for current university students to complete their program under the existing tuition structure. Still, for new students, the change will apply fall of 2024.
The three affected universities do not appear supportive of the news. Following the proposal, the university admin of McGill, Concordia, and Bishop’s, released a collective offer in pursuit of stopping the tuition hike. They suggested an implementation of measures to equip their out-of-province students with the facilities of living and working in Québec with French as a second language. However, their motion proved no movement of change from the government in their plans. In a notice released by the principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, Deep Saini wrote, “these measures, if implemented, would have serious consequences.” These consequences, as reported by Saini, include negative effects for the higher education sector and the whole of Québec. As half of McGill’s average student body will be affected by this change, Saini is concerned that prospective students from outside of Québec will feel unwelcomed, solidifying the importance of their diversity to McGill’s unique character and stating that McGill is “stronger when [their] doors are open.”
Similar to McGill, Bishop’s University will also suffer from the implications of the change. Situated in the Eastern Townships, Bishop’s is a small school with 45% of their 2,700 students traveling from out-of-province. One of these students, Sonoma Brawley, a second-year Music student currently serving as Humanities Senator on the Board of Student Representatives and Bishop’s University Senate, spoke out about the recent change. As an out-of-province, French Immersion student, Brawley describes being drawn to Bishop’s for its welcoming community, emphasizing the university’s core value of creating a sense of belonging for all students. After studying French for ten years, Brawley was thrilled to move to Québec and have the opportunity to learn more about Québécois culture. Like all current students, Brawley’s yearly tuition price will not change due to the policy, yet amends how the change will “significantly shift the culture, community, and identity of [the] student population” for years to come. With higher tuition prices than other Canadian universities, this change will impact these universities’ capacity for attracting and retaining prospective students from out-of-province, minimizing the prosperous community that Principal Saini and student Sonoma Brawley describe.
To battle what Bishop’s principal, Sébastien Lebel-Grenier, states to be an “existential threat” to the university, students — such as Brawley — have begun raising their voices. To show support for the Bishop community, and all those affected, a petition can be signed against the proposal. Their goal is to reach 30,000 signatures before November 27, consisting of signatures from anyone who supports students’ rights to “accessible and affordable post-secondary education.” Brawley is among those promoting the petition, speaking out that, “as students, [they] are raising [their] voices and sharing [their] stories because [they] are fearful for the future and longevity of the university community that [they] know and love.” The petition can be found at https://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/exprimez-votre-opinion/petition/Petition-10517/index.html.