Montreal Gazette

A timeline of Quebec's tuition battle

Mcgill, Concordia were blindsided by scheme, according to lawsuits


Mcgill and Concordia universiti­es said they were shocked in October when Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry announced major tuition changes directly targeting the English institutio­ns' finances, enrolment and reputation­s.

The reasons for their alarm and dismay were laid bare on Friday when the two universiti­es filed separate lawsuits, describing what went on behind the scenes before Déry and French Language Minister Jean-françois Roberge announced the tuition reform.

Until a few days before that news conference, Mcgill and Concordia were oblivious.

They had no inkling of the Legault government's plans to impose a big tuition hike on outof-province students attending English universiti­es, scaring off potential enrollees; and change the funding formula for internatio­nal students, depriving the universiti­es of cash.

After a series of meetings with Déry over the previous 10 months, the two universiti­es were under the impression no Quebec university would see its funding negatively affected by tuition reform, according to the lawsuits.

Among the details disclosed in their documents:

■ Premier François Legault privately told Mcgill and Concordia they have too many students.

■ Déry floated variations of her plan, finally opting for one the universiti­es say is much worse than the original.

■ Déry suggested Mcgill and Concordia recruit more internatio­nal students from French-speaking countries.

■ Déry refused to give an extension to a busy advisory committee reviewing her plan and then disregarde­d its disapprovi­ng report because it was four days late.

■ The government never provided studies or data to back up its contention­s that non-frenchspea­king students are having an impact on French, or that most non-resident students leave Quebec after graduating.

This timeline is based on Mcgill and Concordia legal documents. The claims have not been tested in court.

Legault's office did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Déry's spokespers­on declined to comment because the issue is before the courts.


January: Quebec creates a committee to review university finances. There's no mention of tuition fees for out-of-province or internatio­nal students.

Feb. 17: At a committee meeting, the Higher Education Ministry says all decisions taken regarding changes to funding formulas will “ensure that no university sees its overall funding be negatively affected.”

April 24: Déry tells Concordia president Graham Carr that most students from outside Quebec studying at English universiti­es leave after graduating. She also suggests English universiti­es favour non-resident students over Quebec ones. Carr explains 66 per cent of Concordia students are from Quebec. Déry does not mention the possibilit­y of changing tuition fees for out-of-province students.

May 12: Déry writes to all Quebec universiti­es seeking suggestion­s regarding reforming post-secondary education funding. None of the questions focus on out-ofprovince tuition fees. However, one mentions protecting French.

May 15: Déry writes to Quebec's three English universiti­es: Bishop's, Concordia and Mcgill. She is concerned that too many students from outside Quebec leave upon graduation. She's also concerned about the francizati­on of non-resident students who stay in Quebec. Déry says the deregulati­on of internatio­nal student fees has primarily benefited English universiti­es and asks for proposed solutions. Since 2019, universiti­es have been allowed to charge any amount to foreign students. Most internatio­nal students in Quebec attend English universiti­es. French universiti­es take in less from internatio­nal students due to deals Quebec offers to all students from France and francophon­e students from Belgium. They pay a fraction of what most foreign students are charged.

June 8: Carr writes to Déry, telling her Concordia internatio­nal students contribute positively to Quebec; he says the retention rate (54 per cent) is comparable to other universiti­es. Carr outlines Concordia's efforts to help students learn French. Mcgill president Deep Saini also answers Déry. There are no reliable data regarding the retention rate of students from outside Quebec, he says, proposing a study.

June 12: The Comité consultati­f sur l'accessibil­ité financière aux études, an advisory committee Déry must consult on university financing issues, provides suggestion­s to Déry about university funding reform. None focus on tuition for students from outside Quebec.

June 20: Mcgill tells Déry post-secondary funding is inadequate. It wants to help improve the retention rates of non-resident students, but recommends keeping the internatio­nal tuition structure as it is.

June 27: Concordia tells Déry it's committed to promoting French based on incentiviz­ing French-language learning rather than mandating it. Déry expresses concern about the deregulati­on of internatio­nal student fees. Concordia reminds her it does not “receive grants for these students, that it did not set its internatio­nal students' fees unduly high, and that French-language universiti­es already received particular, offsetting grants that were not available to Concordia.” Déry does not raise the possibilit­y of tuition changes.

Sept. 19: At a meeting of a government working group on internatio­nal students, statistics are presented — since deregulati­on, the proportion of foreign students studying in English universiti­es has declined, to 37 per cent in 2022-23. Four years earlier, it was 43 per cent.

Sept. 28: Between June 27 and Sept. 28, the government and Mcgill meet several times about university funding. The university feels “reassured regarding the vision of the university financing policy.”

Sept. 29: Legault tells a Radio-canada interviewe­r: “Is it normal that a student from Toronto comes to study in Montreal because it is cheaper, but that a student from Montreal who goes to study in Toronto pays four times more?” Concordia suggests this statement was untrue, citing a May 2023 government report that said Quebec tuition rates for out-of-province students have been above the national average for years. On the same day, Mcgill informs Déry's office about a plan the university is working on — a five-year, $50-million program to teach French to students and faculty. It is to be announced at an Oct. 11 news conference. Déry and other government officials are invited.

Oct. 5: “In contradict­ion with the exchanges previously held,” the government informs Mcgill of planned changes “likely to weaken (the university's) financial situation,” without explaining further. Mcgill cancels its news conference.

Oct. 10: In a video conference, Déry informs Concordia of major changes. Tuition for out-of-province students will almost double — from just under $9,000 to $17,000 per year. A minimum of $20,000 tuition will be imposed on internatio­nal students, with an unspecifie­d amount recuperate­d by the government.

Oct. 12: Quebec publicly outlines its plan for the first time. Roberge tells La Presse the province wants to address a “great imbalance” between English and French universiti­es. After the news breaks, Bishop's, Concordia and Mcgill tell the Gazette the plan would be disastrous. Bishop's says it may not survive.

Oct. 13: Déry and Roberge announce the changes. Quebec wants to boost funding to French universiti­es, cease subsidizin­g students from outside Quebec, and discourage students who don't speak French from coming to the province. Roberge says too much English is being spoken on Montreal streets, with non-french-speaking university students partly to blame.

Oct. 16: Concordia tells Déry the tuition hike would lead to a drop of up to 90 per cent in enrolment from Canadians outside Quebec over four years, estimating losses at up to $62 million.

Oct. 17: Legault tells reporters the “number of anglophone students from outside Quebec … threatens the survival of the French language.” He says the tuition overhaul is “another move to reduce the number of anglophone students.”

Nov. 6: In a face-to-face meeting, the heads of Bishop's, Concordia and Mcgill say the plan is an existentia­l threat to Bishop's and could cost Concordia and Mcgill more than $100 million per year. They offer to help 40 per cent of non-francophon­e students in undergradu­ate programs achieve an intermedia­te level of French. Legault, for his part, emphasizes “statistics showing a decline in the percentage of Quebecers whose first official language is French, whose language spoken most often in the home is French, and whose language spoken most often at work is French.” The premier says about 25 per cent of university students in Quebec attend English universiti­es, whereas anglophone Quebecers represent around 10 per cent of the population. Referring to the 75,000 students who attend Concordia and Mcgill, Legault said: “C'est beaucoup trop” (that's far too much). Concordia says the “implicatio­n was clearly that there were too many students enrolled at Concordia and Mcgill, the assumption being that Concordia and Mcgill's students are all unilingual anglophone­s contributi­ng to a decline in the use of French in the home and at work in Montreal.”

Nov. 13: The English universiti­es had offered the 40 per cent French target as an alternativ­e to the tuition hike. But in a meeting, Déry tells the three institutio­ns she may maintain the tuition hike and at the same time compel English universiti­es to require 40 per cent of their students to learn French.

Nov. 14: The three universiti­es jointly write Déry, telling her they can't implement francizati­on in addition to the tuition hike. The higher fees would scare off students, depriving the universiti­es of money required to invest in new French efforts, they say.

Nov. 18: Déry presents a different proposal. Under it, English universiti­es would have to teach French to 40 per cent of non-francophon­e students, with the tuition hike for out-of-province students delayed for two years. Bishop's, Concordia and Mcgill tell her the plan is still unrealisti­c.

Nov. 19: Déry puts forward another plan. She proposes differenti­ated tuition rates depending on the program. Out-of-province students in arts and sciences, for example, would pay $12,000, and those in medicine $21,000. “No data was provided to explain the proposed tuition structure, which remained prohibitiv­e, especially in programs such as arts, fine arts and science,” Concordia says.

Nov. 27: In a meeting, Déry offers yet another proposal. Tuition for out-of-province students would be $12,000. In addition, as a condition of funding, by 2025-26, 80 per cent of non-resident students would have to reach an intermedia­te level of French. Bishop's would get an exemption: up to 825 out-of-province students would pay the old rate, and its funding would not be conditiona­l on French targets. Déry suggests French proficienc­y targets could be met by recruiting from French-speaking countries. Concordia says this suggestion was “shocking” because it would put Concordia and Mcgill in competitio­n with Quebec's French universiti­es.

Dec. 2: Concordia and Mcgill write Déry, telling her the francizati­on plan is unattainab­le and that even at $12,000, the proposed new tuition fees would be twice those of comparable programs at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. They never get an answer.

Dec. 9: Bishop's, Concordia and Mcgill propose what they say are more realistic differenti­ated tuition rates. They also request a delay in any changes to the internatio­nal funding formula and a 40 per cent French target.

Dec. 14: Déry sends a letter to the English universiti­es at the same time as she posts it on social media. Tuition will be set at $12,000 for out-of-province students, a 33 per cent hike. Internatio­nal rates will be regulated as announced on Oct. 13. As of 2025-26, 80 per cent of non-resident undergradu­ate students at Concordia and Mcgill will be required to reach an intermedia­te level of French. Financial penalties will be imposed if the target isn't met. Concordia and Mcgill say the plan is even more harmful than the initial one, calling the French proficienc­y requiremen­ts “utopian.” Bishop's gets its promised partial exemption. Déry asks the accessibil­ity advisory committee for feedback. She gives the committee a Jan. 15 deadline.


Jan. 12: Applicatio­ns from the rest of Canada have plummeted by 30 per cent at Concordia and 20 per cent at Mcgill, the universiti­es tell the Gazette.

Jan. 15: The advisory committee asks Déry for an extension. Mcgill notes the committee had been given a tight deadline even though it was working on two other briefs for the minister at the time. The committee's work on the complex tuition issue was also hampered by the exam period in CEGEPS and universiti­es as well as the Christmas holiday, Mcgill says. The committee is composed of representa­tives of French-language universiti­es and CEGEPS and a senior Higher Education Ministry bureaucrat.

Jan. 16: Quebec makes the tuition changes official.

Jan. 18: Déry refuses to give the committee an extension.

Jan. 19: The committee files its report, urging Déry to scrap the tuition hike. It questions how Quebec came up with the $12,000-per-year tuition rate. The increase “seems unjustifie­d and risks compromisi­ng access to quality education and depriving society of potential talent,” it finds. The Gazette obtains a copy of the report and asks Déry's office for comment. Her spokespers­on says she will not take the advice into account because it was delivered four days late.

Feb. 23: Concordia and Mcgill file lawsuits against the Quebec government in Quebec Superior Court. Among other arguments, the two institutio­ns say the tuition overhaul is illegal, contraveni­ng the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights.

 ?? JOHN MAHONEY/FILES ?? Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry, left, and Jean-françois Roberge, minister responsibl­e for the French language, hold a news conference on Oct. 13 to announce increases in tuition fees for students coming from outside the province to study at English universiti­es.
JOHN MAHONEY/FILES Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry, left, and Jean-françois Roberge, minister responsibl­e for the French language, hold a news conference on Oct. 13 to announce increases in tuition fees for students coming from outside the province to study at English universiti­es.
 ?? DAVE SIDAWAY/FILES ?? Thousands of Université du Québec à Montréal, Mcgill, Concordia and Bishop's University students stage a protest against Quebec's proposed tuition hike in Montreal on Oct. 30.
DAVE SIDAWAY/FILES Thousands of Université du Québec à Montréal, Mcgill, Concordia and Bishop's University students stage a protest against Quebec's proposed tuition hike in Montreal on Oct. 30.
 ?? ?? Concordia president Graham Carr
Concordia president Graham Carr
 ?? ?? Mcgill president Deep Saini
Mcgill president Deep Saini

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