Tuition hikes pose threat to Concordia’s arts programs

Data shows the CAQ’s new tuition policy will negatively impact Concordia’s fine arts department

The tuition hike is said affect faculty, students and jeopardize Montreal’s artistic community. Photo Marie-Élizabeth Foucault-Milot

Inside one of the Fine Arts lounge rooms, a group of students worked with haste. Frederic Alcide, who is in his second year of computation arts at Concordia, proudly pinned a red square on his tuque. A symbol of the 2012 Maple Spring where students protested for months against the rise of tuition fees within the province. The square is an emblem to represent the recent fight to reverse the Quebec government’s tuition hikes on students who reside outside of the province.

In October, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) announced a new policy that would significantly raise out-of-province and international students' tuition, starting September 2024. Originally, the average out-of-province tuition of $8,992 per year was proposed to be set to $17,000. The Legault government now plans to raise out-of-province tuition by 33 per cent. This would result in an increase from approximately $9,000 to $12,000 for students from the rest of Canada.

The policy will affect both students and departments at Concordia. According to Alcide, Concordia offers specialized arts programs that can’t be found elsewhere in the province, going as far to say that “For a lot of people, [it’s] the only chance they’ve got.” 

To Alcide, the computational arts program offers great advantages to prepare students for the field of work. “I don’t want someone else, five years from now, looking at [this] program and thinking ‘This is a perfect fit,’ but can’t make it because they don’t have the money.”

While Quebecers like Alcide won't be directly affected by the tuition surge, some of his peers will be. The expected legislation would also affect current non-Quebecer Concordia students. 

Isabella Providenti is pursuing a degree in visual arts at Concordia. Providenti is an out-of-province student who studied geophysics at the University of Victoria, left the university and spent some time away from academia before coming to Concordia. However, now Providenti wishes to switch her major to studio arts. Switching majors would require her to pay the new tuition fees, even though Providenti has already been registered at Concordia since the beginning of the fall 2023 semester.

“It’s quite crushing to think about the journey to get myself back into school,” said Providenti. This past fall was her first semester back to school in three years, “Now it feels like the rug is being pulled from under me.”

In the upcoming months, many students like Providenti, who seek to change programs within the university, will face a gruelling decision: to return home or pay the inflated tuition.

“No part of me wants to leave,” said Providenti. “I just moved here in August, [I] just got settled and [I’m] feeling very inspired by the city and inspired by the school I’m attending. I chose Montreal and Concordia.”

In a document acquired by The Link from staff in the faculty of fine arts, it was discovered that out-of-province studio arts students make up 28 per cent of the program, while international studio arts students make up nine per cent. Without their presence, the program is in jeopardy. 

While those like Alcide won’t have to spend more money on their education, they are facing another challenge brought by the government’s decision—budget cuts.

For one, Concordia has implemented a quota where if classes have low-enrollment they are at risk of being cancelled. 

Concordia is also operating on a 19.4 million dollar deficit. “To be clear, 2023-24 will be a very challenging year financially,” wrote the university on their website. The deficit, combined with the deterrence of non-quebec students as a result of increase of tuition fees, might greatly affect the quality of the courses. According to Concordia, the university will lose 15.5 million in revenue for the 2024-2025 academic years and $62 million per year for the following four years. The university stated that their departments are expecting to lose 65 to 90 per cent of their out-of-province student population. 

There is a growing fear among students regarding the lack of funding the policy will bring to their programs. “Less enrollment means less students coming in, meaning [there’s] less funding,” said Daniel Gonzales, a fellow-classmate of Alcide in computational arts. Gonzales also believes the short-comings in funding might mean “programs either closing, or classes shutting down.”

Unless an agreement is reached between the government and the anglophone universities, the policy will leave its mark on the city, according to Jens Giersdorf, professor and chair of the department of contemporary dance at Concordia.

“We were quite taken aback by the changes in the tuition, especially since our program has around 50 per cent of Canadians who are [from] outside of Québec,” Giersdorf said.

More than half of Concordia’s department of theatre is composed of students not from Quebec. The department is made up of 39 per cent of out-of-province students and 16 per cent of international students.

Contemporary dance will be the most affected, with 49 per cent of out-of-province students and 15 per cent of international students. The program relies on 64 per cent of their student body from outside the province.

According to Giersdorf, contemporary dance students are either francophones or francophiles. “Everyone in the room speaks French, literally everyone,” he said. “[Even] the international student from Colombia speaks French.”

Giersdorf’s students' French proficiency inspired him to learn the language as well.

Giersdorf reckoned the government’s new policy will impact professors too, “We are very concerned about part-time hiring and what that means about part-time faculty.”

Before accepting a teaching position at Concordia, Giersdorf used to teach in New York City. Some of his students there would take summer training programs in contemporary dance in Montreal. He said Montreal is renowned as a “unique dance landscape” with a “unique approach to the discipline.”

The contemporary dance program at Concordia relies on 64 per cent of their student body from outside the province. Photo Marie-Élizabeth Foucault-Milot

With the potential cuts to the department of fine arts, Gierdorf is concerned about the anglophone artistic community in the city.

According to a survey by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS World University Rankings) in 2020, Concordia’s fine arts department ranked second within Canadian universities when it comes to art and design. As of 2023, Concordia was third in the country.

The dean of fine arts, Annie Gérin, was in touch with the many departments within her faculty, when the CAQ announced the legislation. On the week of Nov. 13, she held a meeting discussing the situation and what it meant for the program.

Giersdorf, too, was at the meeting.

“There is a lot of support from the university,” said Giersdorf.  “It was a very productive meeting to let everyone know that the university is aware of what is being done in the dance department.”

The meeting was joined by a collective of actors within the fine arts department. Together, they spoke about what could be done and what they are doing in the program of contemporary dance. Students, staff, part-time faculty and full-time members participated, all of which are directly targeted by the circumstances.

“Students are invested in the program and that’s really good news. It means that [we] really built a community within the dance department,” said Giersdorf. “It’s important that we continue to exist because this kind of work is a really unique way of thinking about physicality, embodiment and how we are structuring ourselves in society.”