August 26, 2011

Quebec has low fees for higher education

A few years ago, we used to joke, my wife and I, that the fees for our younger son's hockey program at his public high school were more than those for our older son's term at our local university.

While you may be puzzled by what my we find amusing, the point here is that on some twisted graph comparing the relative cost of learning in Quebec, skating and shooting have greater value than reading and writing.

In two weeks time, younger son is off to university, and my wife and I are still joking — maybe that's not the right word — how about breathing a sigh of relief? That's because we consider ourselves lucky that our kids get to go to university in Quebec. For decades, folks in other provinces have been saying, with a large dose of envy, that tuition fees here are a joke.

Indeed, Quebec university fees are unquestionably the lowest in a country where education fees are set by provincial governments.

The basic tuition (onto which are added, in our case, about $1,000 in other fees) is $2,168 Canadian; the national average, with Quebec not included, is $5,535. The next closest is Newfoundland and Labrador at $2,619; the highest is Ontario at $5,951; the closest to the national average is Alberta with $5,520.

A quick check at the fees for SUNY, by comparison, shows the basic tuition to be $5,270 plus an average "student fee" of $1,300.

Tuition for undergraduate programs at private U.S. universities — of which there are none in Canada — can run, according to one recent report, from $21,000 to $42,000.

Quebec, as it does in so many ways from public pensions to day care to liquor laws, has developed a distinct approach to university funding. The province's cut-rate tuition fees, while a departure from the French model of essentially free university for citizens, accord with the province's philosophy of keeping public services affordable through higher taxes.

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