Two takes on tuition

Two takes on tuition McGill University

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McGill Reporter
March 7, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 12
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Two takes on tuition

It's that time of year again for the University to come clean.

In return for the Quebec government's pledge to make a significant reinvestment in higher education, universities have promised to be accountable. March 13 will see McGill cough up details on students, salaries and statistics in front of Quebec's parliamentary commission on education.

This will be the first presentation since the performance contract between the government and McGill came into effect. Principal Bernard Shapiro and Vice-Principal (Academic) and Provost Luc Vinet will speak for 15 minutes, turn the floor over for five to Students' Soviety vice-president, community and government affairs, Danielle Lanteigne to speak on behalf of all students, then questions will fly for the remainder of the hour.

Other McGill representatives will attend, such as Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) Morty Yalovsky, Joe Marin, executive chairperson, and Stephanie Matheson, external and governmental affairs coordinator, both from the Post Graduate Students' Society; and Students' Society president Jeremy Farrell.

When Quebec retooled how it calculates funding for universities, it was discovered that McGill was underfunded by $16 million annually. The government suggested the funds be adjusted over 15 years, to avoid taking money out of the pockets of other universities. It sounded reasonable at the time, says Real Del Degan, director of the Office of the Principal and of the Provost.

But then McGill noticed that substantial chunks of money were made readily available to other Quebec universitites. As well, by taking 15 years to redress the discrepency, McGill misses out on over $180 million of funding.

McGill is keeping up its end of the bargain in terms of performance contract pledges, says Del Degan. "We're happy to report we're on track of everything we said we'd do."

Shapiro says the progress report will be straightforward as McGill has met its own and the government's performance objectives. The University's deficit is down, graduation rates are high and new professors are being hired. Infrastructure is expanding. TechSquare will soon see the addition of two buildings: the Lorne M. Trottier, and the Genomics and Proteomics Centre. A new Life Sciences Complex is in the works. McGill has established new programs in hot areas such as bioinformatics and software engineering, and established new interdisciplinary research centres such as the Centre on Research for Language, Mind and Brain and the Institute for Advanced Materials.

The Quebec government has made some welcome moves in recent months -- facilitating immigration laws so it's easier to get researchers over here, granting new-to-the-province professors in especially competitive fields such as finance and electrical engineering a five-year tax exemption, and providing funding for research centres.

"The policies are working in our favour, and we're going to be grateful for that," Del Degan says.

Del Degan adds, "Businessmen don't have a good impression of what professors do. They think they teach a few courses and slack off in the summer. We want to show how universities are important economic and social contributors. It's a sales pitch for McGill, and universities in general."

Shapiro wants to see the inequity of funding between McGill and other universities handled better. He estimates that other universities with similar missions -- the Universities of Michigan and Toronto, for instance -- receive about $80 million more in funding each year than McGill does.

"We are aware that it would be almost impossible for the Quebec government alone to take up this burden," says Shapiro. He urges Quebec City to reconsider its freeze on tuition fees.

Lanteigne will support much of McGill's position, but she is prepared to butt heads over the issue of tuition fees.

Her talk will look at how "education is underfunded drastically. There's less per-capita student funding in Quebec than in the rest of Canada."

Impressed by the government's dedication to the tuition freeze in the past, she wants to point out that there is a direct correlation between tuition going up and students dropping out, which soon has an impact on the economy. "There need to be much more comprehensive loans and bursaries in place if tuition goes up," Lanteigne says.

Shapiro argues that the experience elsewhere indicates that higher tuition rates "does not affect full-time enrolment." He agrees with Lanteigne about the need for better student support, though, and the University pledges to use a portion of any tuition fee increase for scholarships and student aid.

Other concerns Lanteigne will address include tuition increases for international students and their access to gainful employment while they're here, attracting graduate students to Quebec and keeping them here after graduation, and an equitible distribution of funding between arts and sciences.

Although Lanteigne thinks the support and funding of the new science and tech buildings is great, "we're struggling to find funds to build a new Arts building. It would be nice if our social science buildings weren't falling apart."

While they might not always agree with his positions, Shapiro is happy to have students share the floor.

"It's a very good idea for them to do it. There's something quite real in the students' experience." Although not the only university to have students present, McGill "was certainly the first. When we did it, it caused a mild surprise, even, I'd say, delight."

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