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McGill halts French-language program as Quebec increases tuition fees


McGill University says it has been forced to postpone its announcement about a $50 million investment over five years to fund programs and services to encourage its community to learn or improve their French language skills.

"The larger goal of the program was to help students, faculty and staff integrate more fully into Quebec society, broadening the already extensive impact of our talent and expertise across Quebec," the university states.

McGill officials say finding funding for its investment to promote the French language was already a difficult feat.

"We were alerted by the government that changes that could affect our financial situation were coming," the university notes. "We were not provided with any details of the changes. We are currently examining the potential financial impact that these might have on the university."


The change comes just days after the provincial government announced that out-of-province and international students would be charged nearly double to attend university in Quebec.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government estimates that tuition for out-of-province students will jump from $8,992 to $17,000 in the fall of 2024.

International students will have to pay a minimum of $20,000.

"I'm disappointed because it's hard for the international reputation of the metropolis," said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, adding that the city had not been informed about the CAQ's plan before the announcement.

The measure does not apply to medical or PhD students, but it will apply to all undergraduate and graduate programs, including Master's programs.

Though the CAQ insists this is not an attack on English speakers, it did say it wants to protect the French language, particularly in Montreal, by making it more expensive for students who, according to the government, come to Quebec to study in English only to leave after graduation.

"This is not a measure against anglophones," said Quebec Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry, adding funding for these students cost about $110 million a year. "I'm not closing the door to any anglophone students who want to come to McGill, Concordia, or Bishop's. They will be able to come. It's just that we're not ready to continue funding that kind of policy."

Déry says any savings made will be redirected into the French post-secondary school network.

According to Quebec's three English-language universities, the tuition hike will affect them disproportionately.

"There's no question these measures could affect the recruitment of prospective Canadian students from outside Quebec, as it will cost less to study elsewhere in Canada for many programs," said Cynthia Lee, McGill University media relations associate director.

Numerous school administrations, opposition lawmakers and students have also refuted the government's accusations.

"I don't think they reflect the reality of what we see both on campus and within the community," said Bishop's University Principal and Vice-Chancellor Sébastien Lebel-Grenier. "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."

Some students will be exempt from the higher fee, such as those covered by international agreements, including France and Belgium. 


McGill's decision sparked mixed reactions among Quebec's opposition parties.

Speaking at a press scrum Thursday, Marc Tanguay, interim Quebec Liberal Party leader, said the university is justified in cancelling the program.

"Now they have to think ahead about investing that amount of money -- $50 million -- considering that that decision taken by this government will impair their financial capacity," he told reporters.

"I think that's a great program, it has to go forward, but I understand perfectly [for] McGill University to say, 'okay we'll have a standstill, and we'll need to have a conversation with the [higher education] minister.'"

"It's a pity, it's a bad decision from the CAQ government," he continued.

Meanwhile, Québec solidaire (QS) and the Parti Québecois (PQ) questioned whether McGill is making a "retaliatory" move.

"They should put in place this program. It's important that we promote French anywhere, anytime, and the debate we have now with the CAQ measure should not stop McGill [from implementing] that," said QS MNA Alexandre Leduc.

"Is it retaliation [...] from McGill to the government? It's weird, honestly. They should go and provide the program as they planned to do," he added.

"Parallel to that, we should have a discussion, 'is that a good measure from the government, is that a good way to promote French?'" he said in reference to the tuition hike. 

Leduc noted that QS is working on a proposal to be presented in the coming days "because we don't think it's exactly the good way to go."

PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon made a similar, albeit firmer, point.

"It looks like retaliation. In which case we need to ask, should the government take back the $1 billion gift for the Royal Vic?" he said, referring to McGill's plans to transform the old Royal Victoria Hospital site into a research and learning centre.

"If the program was legitimate and useful, why that kind of reaction of retaliation? I think it's very difficult to defend." 

Did you come from out-of-province to study and have now made Quebec your home? We want to hear your story. E-mail us at Top Stories

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