More Cuts to Universities On The Horizon

Duchesne Unable to Deny Further Shrink in Budget

The third of four thematic meetings leading towards next month’s province-wide summit on higher education began on an ambiguous note.

The meeting took place on Jan. 17 and 18 at Université de Sherbrooke.

At a press conference held prior to the meeting, Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology Pierre Duchesne was asked repeatedly whether the $124 million cuts imposed on universities in December would continue next year.

He approached the questions carefully, but didn’t deny that additional cuts were likely coming.

“We’ll have to see,” said Duchesne. “Will it be recurring, will it be whole, or in part?”

He did not specify the magnitude of the potential 2013-2014 cuts.

“We have to get to zero deficit,” he continued. “When we’ve determined what [the student contribution] will be, we can add and subtract.”

Duchesne’s words confirmed what was recently alluded to by Concordia administrators in a series of public meetings —that, even though 2013-2014 budget currently promises a small re-investment, the Parti Québécois will announce more cuts next year.

On Nov. 14, Concordia’s interim-Provost Lisa Ostiguy referenced a recent meeting between Concordia administrators and the government in which these cuts were discussed.

“We have to get to zero deficit. When we’ve determined what [the student contribution] will be, we can add and subtract.”
—Pierre Duchesne, Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology

Underfinancing or Mismanagement?

The issue of under-financing was hotly debated at the meeting.

The Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities claimed that Quebec Universities are under financed by $850 million dollars, compared to other provinces’ universities.

Others, including the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, rejected the number, saying that poor management of funds and insufficient oversight are bigger problems.

The FEUQ, the union of Quebec professors and the union federation CSN called for changes in the university funding model itself—that pays out to universities on a per-student basis—on grounds that it created undue competition between universities and fostered expensive, unnecessary expansion.

President Sylvie Beauchamp of the Université du Québec network contested this, saying that expansion was necessary to respond to Quebec’s growing higher education needs.

The Table de concertation étudiante du Québec suggested taxing businesses to raise funds, something the Quebec Employers Council opposed.