“Au Revoir,” French Students

FEUQ Voices Opposition to Increasing French Students’ Tuition

  • Graphic Sam Jones

Since 1978, an agreement between France and Quebec meant that French students pay the same tuition fees as Quebecers, as do Quebec students studying in France. However, the Couillard government has decided to renegotiate the agreement—Christine St-Pierre, the minister of international relations and La Francophonie, announced the new criteria on Feb. 12.

Although the new agreement does provide a “grandfather” clause and tuition fees will remain the same for graduate students, the government intends to triple tuition fees for new French undergraduate students. Concretely, tuition fees will increase from $2,200 per year to $6,650 per year by September 2015.

Overestimated savings
With this reform, St-Pierre expects the government to save $30 million annually. Moreover, the minister of international relations has reiterated that Quebec students studying in France continue to enjoy the same fees as before.
First, the savings generated by the new agreement are overestimated.

It’s a back-of-the-napkin calculation, assuming 7,500 undergraduate French students will bring in $4,450 each per year. The calculation fails to consider the number of credits they register for, as well as the fact that many of these students are on exchange and don’t pay their tuition to Quebec universities, but to their home universities in France.

Once these elements are taken into consideration, the government could, at most, save $19 million by increasing French undergraduate tuition. This assumes that enrolment doesn’t decrease. With this calculation, the government is using an accounting approach that doesn’t consider the actual financial contribution of these students in Quebec.

Indeed, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec estimates the economic impact of undergraduate French students’ consumption at nearly $280 million annually (rent, living expenses, etc). Obviously, it is naive to believe that these benefits will remain stable with such a drastic increase in tuition fees. According to the government, higher tuition will only have a minimal impact on student enrolment.

However, a 2006 study, conducted by CROP for the Regional Conference of Elected Officials in Montreal, noted that nearly 60 per cent of international students at Montreal universities chose Montreal specifically because of the cost of education in Quebec. Although the increase negotiated by the Liberal government won’t impede all French students from studying here, the FEUQ does expect a reduction in French students’ enrolment, which will further reduce the “savings” that the government claims to expect.

Damaging universities
With this increase, universities will also see damage. Rural universities depend on French students to offer more programs, and French students at the master’s and doctoral level contribute to the expansion of knowledge. An important relationship has developed between Quebec and France to increase research collaboration and student mobility. At the doctoral level, thesis co-supervision has been quite successful, and 3,000 French and Quebec students have completed such a doctorate. Theses initiatives require student mobility, and increasing tuition fees could have a nefarious impact on this dynamic.

Taking another look at the role of international students
Over the coming years, Quebec will begin to see the impact of an aging population. The province, more than ever, needs a growing workforce, specifically a highly educated and specialized workforce. Allowing students to complete their education in Quebec at low cost is the first step of a strategy to attract and retain this workforce. In addition, the FEUQ has, for several years now, demanded a tax credit to reimburse part of the additional tuition fees paid by international students who decide to settle in Quebec. This measure fits into a strategy to retain these individuals. Not only are these students ideal immigration candidates because of their education and the recognition of their degrees, but they are also already well integrated in Quebec.

Concerns about Quebec’s demographic shift are only increasing. This issue is of serious concern, and the announcement made by St-Pierre on Feb. 12 is wholly irrational in the long term. Obviously, the Couillard government sees international students as cash cows—a source of additional revenue for state coffers. To reiterate an important fact: increasing tuition fees for French undergraduate students is the first step in a series of future negotiations with other countries.

Indeed, the Couillard government has already stated its intention to review agreements with international partners upon expiration. The next one is with China. Thus, more increases for international students are expected. That bodes poorly for international students; for Quebec students, whose international mobility might be limited with new agreements; and for Quebec society overall.

Jonathan Bouchard, President
Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec_

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.