McGill Reporter – Differential tuition drains resources, draws lawsuit
By Alison Ramsay | 11 September 1997
The consequences of the provincial government’s decision to increase tuition for students coming to Quebec from the rest of Canada are beginning to hit home. Eight thousand McGill students must pay $1,200 more in tuition this year an increase since last fall of $40 per credit.
The province announced last November that it would introduce differential tuition, a move which Principal Bernard Shapiro calls “inappropriate for a country of this sort,” and which has provoked the Students’ Society of McGill University to sue both the University and the Quebec government.
“It’s unforgivable,” says Elizabeth Gomery, SSMU vice-president for University Affairs. “They knew they couldn’t increase tuition without losing the next election,” she explains, referring to strong opposition to tuition hikes by voting-age students throughout the province.
“So what did they do? They avoided the electorate. The money that’s being raised by this is peanuts. It’s a political decision to make a differentiation between who is a Canadian and who is a Quebecer. That’s what has offended these students, and that’s what has offended us.”
The tuition increase is levied against all students except those pursuing PhDs and is expected to cost them a combined $9.6 million. Half of all out-of-province students studying in Quebec attend McGill.
The University has set aside an additional $2 million in student aid ($1.3 million in bursaries and work-study programs, $700,000 in loans) to help offset the fee hike. So far, the amount has covered the 1,000 applicants who have sought financial assistance to pay the increased tuition, but “we’re nearing the end of our budget,” says Judy Stymest, Director of Student Aid.
The situation is more than just a hardship for the estimated 8,000 students affected. It’s also a headache for the University administration, which is being blamed by angry students who don’t know the tuition hike is a government initiative.
Adding to the confusion, some students who called the Education Ministry to express their fury were told, “We’re not responsible for that. Call your school,” according to Gomery. In fact, McGill keeps none of the revenue generated by the increase.
Along with the usual surge of activity at the Admissions and Registrar’s Office that accompanies any new school year, staff have had to cope with an enormous additional influx of paper as up to 20,000 incoming and current students rush to prove Quebec residency before the September 30 deadline.
Students are spending time in line-ups and four temporary workers have been hired to help process the paperwork, says Registrar and Director of Admissions Mariela Johansen.
All registering students were asked to pay an initial tuition instalment of $1,200 just as they were last year, explains Johansen. “However, the additional fees must be paid by the end of this month by everyone who has not proved residency.”
That deadline will not be extended, according to Vice-President (Academic) Bill Chan. “Students [who pay the added fees] will get their money back if it turns out they are considered residents,” he says.
But determining residency isn’t always easy.
Students who have lived in Quebec throughout university, who work here, have a Quebec driver’s licence, a Medicare card and who voted in the last provincial election still aren’t residents, according to the government criteria. You have to have lived in the province for 12 consecutive months without being a full-time student to qualify.
People born in Quebec, no matter where they live now, are considered residents. The government also exempts those who already have a residency code on their CEGEP record or who are listed as residents through a student loan or bursary application. Others must supply proper documentation a complex requirement that includes furnishing documents such as their parents’ lease or letter of property assessment.
Both the administration and students agree it is too early to tell if the added fees will affect future enrolment, although the increase (from the $1668 “Quebec rate” to $2868) doesn’t exceed the Canadian average.
The SSMU lawsuit aims to overturn differential tuition and to send a clear message to other provinces. Though Quebec is the first to charge more for out-of-province students, Alberta and New Brunswick are rumoured to be watching the situation here closely with a view to enacting differential tuition themselves.
SSMU president Tara Newell vows that students will pursue their lawsuit as far as necessary. “We’re funding it now,” says Newell, “and we’ll find a way to pay for it if this case goes to the Supreme Court.”