Provinces Following Quebec by Making Out-Of-Province Students Pay More Tuition

Nationally, Tuition Nearly Tripled in the Past 20 Years, Report Says

Graphic Laura Lalonde

Rather than reducing fees to “ensure accessibility on a universal basis,” provincial governments are focusing on charging out-of-province students more, a report released last Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says.

“Provinces are opting for planned increases over a number of years (several of which are tied to inflation or cost of living) to provide students with the ability to ‘plan’ for tuition fee growth,” the report reads.

The average cost of pursuing a university degree has nearly tripled in Canada in the past 20 years, from $2,320 in 1993-1994 to $6,589 last academic year, and will increase another 13 per cent by 2017-2018, according to the report.

“Based on past performance, past trends and any pronouncements by the ministries of education, we project forward four years to get a sense of what tuition and other compulsory fees will be at the end of a four-year degree,” said Erika Shaker, the director of the CCPA’s education project.

The think tank’s report also ranked provinces on the affordability of a university education for students from both median and low-income families, comparing tuition and other fees to income levels while also taking bursary programs into account.

According to the study, Quebec is the second most affordable province after Newfoundland and Labrador—and both provinces are expected to retain their current ranks through to 2017-2018.

Although Ontario has the highest tuition fees in the country, the least affordable province for middle-class students is New Brunswick, while Alberta holds the same title for low-income families.

Two-Tier Fee Structures Becoming More Common

What’s more, the report reveals a general trend towards two-tiered fee structures, whereby tuition fees differ depending on whether students are considered to be in-province or out-of-province.

Quebec has had a two-tiered system since the 1997-1998 academic year, charging students from elsewhere in Canada higher tuition rates than those domiciled in the province. Other provinces have since moved in that direction as well.

In 2008, Prince Edward Island established “a series of effectively universal bursaries” that are available to first-time students attending UPEI and domiciled in the province, the report notes. Saskatchewan and Ontario have similar programs.

Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia Student Bursary provides in-province students with a bursary of $1,263. Smaller bursaries are available to students from other provinces.

Shaker says the two-tier structure mitigates how bad tuition increases appear by “downloading” more of the costs of higher education onto out-of-province students, while avoiding doing so for in-province ones. But that goes against the concept of universal affordability, increasingly constraining students to attending university in the province they’re from.

“Unfortunately some students have way more choices than others and increasingly that’s falling along income lines, so choose your parents wisely,” she said.

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada on Thursday released its own data on tuition fees across the country, showing tuition for full-time undergrads rose from a national average of $5,767 last academic year to $5,959 this fall, a 3.3 per cent increase.

Newfoundland and Labrador, where tuition has been frozen since 2004, was the only province in which tuition fees didn’t increase this year.

6.5 Per Cent Increase for Out-of-Province Students in Quebec

In Quebec, in-province tuition rates have been indexed to the annual rise in disposable household income, meaning tuition rose by 2.2 per cent this academic year for residents of the province.

But out-of-province students have to deal with a larger increase of about 6.5 per cent.

According to the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Science, students from other provinces will pay the base rate billed to Quebec residents and an additional non-resident fee of $4,359, racking up a $6,632 bill for full-time studies.

“This amount is determined such that non-resident students pay tuition fees corresponding on average to the tuition fees demanded in the other Canadian provinces,” MESRS spokesperson Marie-Ève Déry told The Link.

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, which represents over 125,000 students from 13 student associations across Quebec, is opposed to all tuition increases, whether they’re for in-province or out-of-province students.

“Regarding specifically out-of-province students, as for Quebec students, we’re asking for a simple freeze in tuition fees,” FEUQ president Jonathan Bouchard told The Link.

“We think that’s the best way to ensure that there’s no attack on accessibility but there’s also a fair balance between what students pay and what the government can pay.”

But with Quebec’s three main political parties agreeing that in-province tuition fees should be indexed, FEUQ recognized at its congress in August that it may have to focus its attention elsewhere. Member associations voted unanimously that the “modernization” of Quebec’s financial aid program should be the subject of FEUQ’s annual mobilization campaign this year.

“If we look at housing costs, food costs and living costs as a whole, there’s a shortfall in the [financial aid program] which leads to discrepancies between how much it really costs and what you’re allowed to have in loans and bursaries,” Bouchard said.

He said there’s no annual adjustment factored into the government’s estimate of living costs, leading to many years of lost ground in terms of affordability.

Shaker said the tuition increases in Quebec “speak to an unfortunate trend of how universities are dealing with [government] underfunding […] and how institutions are pushing quite hard to increase tuition fees so that they have that additional source of revenue.”

At the same time that tuition fees are rising, Quebec universities are facing $172 million in budget cuts by the provincial government, according to a report published in Le Soleil on Monday. FEUQ is decrying how the government arrived at its decision to make the cuts.

“There was no real consultation on the government’s part regarding how or where to cut in the universities’ budgets,” Bouchard said.