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May 20, 2013

Difficult year for Quebec universities

PLATTSBURGH — The last year was a tumultuous one for universities in Quebec.

Michael Goldbloom, principal and vice chancellor of Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, provided his views on the state of higher education in the province when he delivered his recent Distinguished Quebec Address at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Proposed tuition hikes led to student riots in spring 2012, which has come to be known as the Maple Spring. 

“I still believe, as an issue of public policy, tuition increases were the right thing to do,” Goldbloom said.

When Quebec underwent what is now known as the Quiet Revolution, starting in the 1960s, part of that was a shift from a church-based education system to one headed by the government. 

Goldbloom said there were 23,000 university students and seven universities in the province in 1963, compared to 270,000 students and 18 universities today. He said most Quebec residents would have to agree the investment in education is one of the wisest decisions provincial leaders have made.

’WHO SHOULD PAY?’

The government made the decision to freeze university tuition in 1970. The policy was guided by good intentions, Goldbloom said, but it has become increasingly unsustainable due to rising costs and the economic downturn.

The universities in Quebec are underfunded by about $800 million compared to those in the other provinces, he said. It is extremely difficult for the government to challenge the freeze, because their opponents would use that position to their political advantage in the next election.

The average tuition to a Quebec university is about $2,000 a year, compared to about $8,000 a year in the rest of Canada. When the policy went into effect, a student paid about 26 percent of the cost of their education, a figure that has dropped to about 14 percent.

The consensus in the province is that anyone with drive and ability should be able to go to college, he said. The question is increasingly becoming who should pay for it.

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