Out-of-province tuition hikes spell trouble for Stingers, Redbirds, Martlets, Gaiters

Quebec’s English varsity programs face uphill battle for recruitment

Sami Jahan dribbles past a McGill player during their Nov. 11 game. Photo Alice Martin

After the Quebec government announced its tuition hikes for international and out-of-province students, varsity directors and coaches at Concordia University, McGill and Bishop’s can see out-of-province recruitment troubles on the horizon. Non-Quebec students make up a considerable proportion of the student-athletes at all three universities.

Hamilton, Ont. native Sami Jahan, one of the foremost members of the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team, said that his university career would have looked much different if the tuition hikes had happened when he was choosing where to study.

“Looking at the kids who are in my shoes, whether they’re playing sports or even just trying to go to school out-of-province […] their landscape is going to change a lot,” he said. Jahan is a fourth-year veteran with the Stingers. The team’s impressive 2021-22 playoff run would not have been possible without him.

Jahan believes that varsity coaches will shift more of their recruitment focus towards CEGEPs. He feels that recruiting talent from out-of-province will be less beneficial for Quebec’s English universities, since they will be able to get four Quebec kids on a scholarship for the same price as one out-of-province recruit.

He emphasized that the tuition hike itself is not the only expense out-of-province students must consider.

“When you leave the province, your family has to put you in some type of residence or living situation. That’s another fee. Food is another thing. It just piles on,” he said. “If I was looking at schools in Canada and I saw Quebec’s tuition hike, my family would be like, ‘That doesn’t make financial sense when you can stay here.’”

The Stingers’ winter sports rosters put them in the best position of the three English universities. Only 20.8 per cent of the hockey and basketball rosters is composed of out-of-province and international students—whose tuition could increase by a minimum of $20,000. Non-Quebec recruits makeup 49.4 per cent of McGill’s hockey and basketball rosters, and 43.1 per cent for Bishop’s. 

Deep Saini, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill, estimated that one third of McGill’s student-athletes hail from another province. Director of Athletics at Bishop’s Matt McBrine told La Tribune that he believes that number to be nearly 50 per cent for his institution. Most notably, 86.7 per cent of the Bishop’s Gaiters women’s soccer team comes from another province or country. Both schools fear that they will need to eliminate some varsity teams due to the hike.

Coaches at Concordia, McGill and Bishop’s had considerable advantages over their francophone counterparts when it came to recruiting out-of-province and international students, but the hike will nullify them completely.

“We’re able to recruit from out west because it’s an English institution […] and the price […] was similar to other universities,” said Marc-André Elément, head coach of the Stingers men’s hockey team. “But now with the increase, it’s going to be another game, and it’s going to be really hard to recruit from outside Quebec, that’s for sure.”

The Stinger’s men’s hockey team only has two non-Quebec players on the roster. However, the program still faces the same obstacles as others that are more dependent on out-of-province recruitment.

“It’s a bit frustrating because we have such good programs,” said Elément. “A lot of guys from [other parts] of the country […] want to come and study here because it’s a good school and everything and now we’re taking that away.”

Elément and his staff are working to find a new recruitment strategy, but they do not see a clear solution right now.

The tuition hikes could potentially create a ripple effect on the rest of the province if English varsity programs become less formidable competition or get wiped out entirely.

“It will also have an impact on Quebec sports infrastructure, something that people tend to forget,” McBrine told La Tribune in French. “If you have three universities—McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s—who are in several sports leagues, and can no longer compete, it will have an impact on every sport.”

Women’s hockey and football are set to receive a big punch. The three English schools make up 50 per cent of the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) women’s hockey conference, and Concordia and McGill form two out of five RSEQ football teams. McBrine agreed with this notion, telling La Tribune that he doubts that three francophone university programs would offer high caliber competition.

The English schools additionally form three out of seven RSEQ teams for men’s and women’s rugby. But the situation is most dire for basketball, where the trio comprises three out of five Quebec programs for men’s and women’s hoops.

If Quebec teams are no longer fit to compete against each other, then the remaining teams may need to move to the Ontario University Athletics or Atlantic University Sport conferences to maintain a high enough level of competition for varsity play.