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Quebec seeking to raise tuition fees for out-of-province students

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The Quebec government is proposing an increase in tuition fees for international and out-of-province students attending universities as a way to protect the French language.

The measure is part of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government's action plan to stop the decline of the use of the French language in the province.

Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry is scheduled to make a formal announcement Friday morning in Montreal.

Quebec French-Language Minister Jean-François Roberge explained the plan in an interview with La Presse.

"We're fed up with managing the decline, protecting the language, curbing the erosion of the language; these are all defensive terms. It's time to regain some ground," Roberge told the paper.

His office did not respond to a request for comment from CTV News, and a spokesperson for Déry declined to confirm any details.

The proposed tuition increase comes on the heels of a disappointing performance for the government in the Jean-Talon byelection, which saw the CAQ lose a seat to the Parti Québécois (PQ).

The task force in charge of the plan also intends to introduce measures to force online streaming giants like Netflix and Spotify to make Quebec content "more visible," according to the language minister. 

The tuition measure would hit the province's three English universities the hardest (McGill, Concordia and Bishop's).

In his La Presse interview, Roberge notes 32,000 students from outside of the province attend English universities and speak the language on a daily basis -- something he says needs to change.

Bishop's University Principal and Vice-Chancellor Sébastien Lebel-Grenier says this is a Montreal problem, and his university, located in Sherbrooke, Que., is a collateral victim.

"We don't see ourselves as a menace to the French language in Quebec. We see ourselves as being able to promote Quebec society and making sure that people from all over Canada and all over the world are a structuring and dynamic force for the betterment of our society," Lebel-Grenier told CTV News.

He says a tuition hike could have a significant impact on the institution. Almost 30 per cent of its student body comes from other provinces and about 15 per cent are international students, he explains.

Out-of-province students currently pay between $8,000 and $9,000 in tuition per year, and international students pay upwards of $25,000.

Lebel-Grenier says if fees go up dramatically, many students may consider going elsewhere, which will hurt both Bishop's diverse student body and its bottom line.

He adds that many students coming to study from other provinces were in French immersion programs or are curious about the language and they see Bishop's as a learning opportunity.

"I would question Minister Roberge's assumptions. I don't think they reflect the reality of what we see both on campus and within the community," he said. "Certainly, we have a lot of success stories with students, especially international students, that came and had no French fluency at all — no knowledge of French — and learned French, integrated into Quebec society and now work in workplaces that are predominantly French workplaces."

He says the university wants to speak with the minister of higher education about the plan to make sure the government can find solutions for Bishop's that don't have a negative impact.

A spokesperson for McGill University declined to comment before the announcement was made. 

Correction

Update on Oct. 16, 2023: A previous version of this story stated that the tuition increase would apply only to Quebec's three English universities. In fact, the measure applies to non-Quebec students attending all universities across the province. The three English universities in Quebec are expected to be the ones affected most by the announcement since they typically receive the highest numbers of out-of-province students. 

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