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Quebec tuition hike plan criticized by business community, federal ministers in Ottawa


Quebec's plan to charge higher tuition fees for non-Quebec university students is being criticized by members of the business community and politicians in Ottawa.

The premier says when he looks at the number of anglophone students in Quebec it threatens the survival of French.

"Having a lot of English-speaking foreign students in Quebec has its advantages, but it also has its disadvantages when it comes to the long-term survival of the French language," he said at a Tuesday press briefing at the National Assembly, 

They can still come, he said, but they will now have to pay the actual cost of their studies, or $17,000, rather than the subsidized rate of $9,000 for Canadians outside Quebec.

The measure also affects those who want to attend French universities — nonsense, according to Quebec's federation of students.

"They want to come here, they want to study here, they want to have their circle of friends and family here, and they won't be able to study here with some facility," said Catherine Bibeau-Lorrain, president of the Quebec Students Union.

Bibeau-Lorrain also criticizes an argument put forward by Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry that the extra income from out-of-province students will help improve the French university network.

"She didn't even provide numbers or data" she says, suggesting the whole plan is improvised.

The business community is also puzzled, considering the province's efforts to attract foreign investments.

"We [Montreal] we are a university city. We are a city that welcomes talent from all over and we want to keep that reputation. It's key, whether it's in the rest of Canada or all over the world. So we don't want enrolment to go down. Secondly, we are in a labour shortage," said Michel Leblanc, the president of Montreal's Board of Trade.

Leblanc added the government's move is counter-productive on other points.

"We want talents and we want international and rest of Canada talents who consider studying in Quebec and maybe what we should focus on is how do we convince them to stay after [graduation."

Luciano D'iorio, who sits on the board of the merchant's group Montreal-Centre Ville and is a past president of McGill's Alumni Association, says students from outside provide business to Montreal, including rent and restaurants.

"Montreal is an international city and I think we want to give a message that our doors are open for business. For students, I think that's important for Quebec and the country at large," he said.

Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry insists Quebec university doors are still open. But its French sector needs a boost.

"What I'm trying to do is rebalance the network and make sure we have substantial money to be able to reinforce the francophone network with these measure we're implementing," said Déry.

Yet, her critics wonder if correcting this imbalance should come at the cost of keeping away Anglophone students.

In Ottawa, Liberal ministers said the measure sends the wrong signal to students and will hurt Quebec's attempts to attract new talent.

"I don't think it's the best decision," Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez, a Montreal MP, said Tuesday in Ottawa. "Universities are like a window into the world and I feel like we're closing that window a little bit."

François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of innovation, science and industry, said Quebec's decision sends the wrong message to those whose talents are needed in industries such as artificial intelligence and electric vehicles.

"I am very mindful of the work that's being done in Quebec to support French language," Champagne said. "But on the other end, I think there is a reflection that needs to be done in terms of what signal it sends."

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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