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Community leaders in Eastern Townships call for tuition hike exemption for Bishop's

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Business and community leaders in Quebec’s Eastern Townships are demanding the CAQ government exclude Bishop’s University from its proposed tuition hikes.

More than 180 people signed an open letter to Premier François Legault and to Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry.

The announcement made Tuesday morning at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que. was met with a standing ovation.

Hundreds of students, staff and alumni attended along with current and former politicians, local business owners and the dean of Université de Sherbrooke, many standing on stage in solidarity with Bishop's University.

They are among the group who signed the open letter asking Quebec to exempt Bishop’s University from the tuition hike increase next fall for out-of-province students, which would effectively double the fee.

In the letter, they express their deep concern for the future of Bishop's University. Local leaders say Bishop’s has been an essential part of the Eastern Townships for 180 years.

They worry about the economic repercussions to the Townships if the university is included in the tuition hikes. They say the university generates over $190 million a year to the region alone.

Many students work part-time jobs at local businesses, shop for food in the region, and even stay after graduating.

Students from other provinces make up about 30 per cent of the student body so officials say the institution's identity is threatened by the government's measure.

"In my view, I don't believe that Bishop’s can survive under this policy," said former Bishop's University principal Michael Goldbloom.

"A third of the university students come from across the country. And if you more than double the tuition that you're charging, I think the reality is -- I don't know, there's got to be 60 or 70 undergraduate universities in Canada that will be charging half that price. So, it's just not likely that students are going to be have to have the financial means to come here. So if you lose a third of your students, I don't think the university can survive."

Déry says she is in talks with the Bishop's principal.

"I'm very sensitive to Bishop's particular situation. And as I said before we are going to find a solution. We're working closely with them, we're working closely also with the other rectors at McGill and Concordia to be able to implement the measures," she said Tuesday.

Bishop's officials say they will continue to rely on support from the community. Meanwhile, students say they're proud to wear purple and white as they stand their ground against the government policy.

With files from CTV News Montreal's Olivia O'Malley. 

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