December 6, 1996
by Eric Smith
McGill senior administrators met last Thursday with international students, concerned about increases in tuition recently announced by Education minister Pauline Marois.
Principal Bernard Shapiro, along with Director of International Education Valerie Pasztor and Vice-Principals Phyllis Heaphy (Administration and Finance), Bill Chan (Academic) and François Tavenas (Planning and Resources) pledged to lobby the provincial government to increase foreign student fees gradually, and to have them apply only to new students entering the University.
But they also told students that many details remain unclear in the wake of the announcement on tuition fees last month.
"The minister's announcement was made without prior consultation with the University," said Chan. "Since the announcement we have been trying to get more information from the ministry."
"We want to know about your concerns and defend your interests," he told students. "McGill is committed to providing a welcoming environment for international students."
Principal Shapiro agreed. "I am very proud that McGill has a greater proportion of international students than any other university in Canada," he said. "I would like there to be more and more. I would like the proportion to get larger."
Shapiro told students he has written to Minister Marois. "The only strong recommendation I made to the government thus far does not have to do with differential fees but with their application," said Shapiro. "I have asked that if adopted, the policy only apply to new students and only in a gradual way."
But he added, "I have no sense as to whether the government will have an interest in these recommendations."
According to Shapiro, "It is at least conceptually within the power of the University not to collect the fees the government imposes." But he added, "If we do that, the government will lower our grant by the same amount. So our capacity to do that is very, very limited. We have 19% less per student than five years ago."
McGill's margin to manoeuvre will depend as much on the grant announcement expected from Quebec City as the final conditions of the fee structure implementation, according to the principal. "We must convince the government not to impose the cuts it has suggested." McGill's share of these cuts is currently estimated at between $14 and $22 million.
Roopal Thaker, the president of the McGill Association of International Students (MAIS), said the meeting was reassuring "in the sense that up until now, it seemed the administration was waiting for things to happen."
Thaker, originally from Kenya and in her final year of a degree in economics and international development, added, "I've talked to a lot of students who have said they are leaving McGill."
According to Thaker, students who are nearing the end of their degrees may complete them here, but many others are looking at transferring their credits to other universities in Canada, the U.S. or their home countries. Many are looking at American universities, she said, because American financial aid programs make some universities there more affordable now than their Canadian counterparts.
At last week's meeting Chan urged students "not to make hasty decisions," but according to Thaker, students who are considering a transfer must act fast to meet deadlines at other institutions.
The MAIS is circulating a petition and is writing to Minister Marois. The association is arguing that the differential fee increase is "a shortsighted solution on Quebec's part." According to Thaker, "It may create a lot of bad feeling about Quebec and in the future that can have repercussions for business and other links."
She encouraged international students to get in touch with the association (398-6658; firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and to help with the lobbying project. The University is also posting regular updates on Dateline McGill at http://ww2.mcgill.ca/news.htm.
Ed note: Just as this meeting was concluding, Madame Marois granted the Reporter a brief telephone interview (please see page 7).