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Dear readers: Substack’s a great platform that helps me do excellent things, but it’s not bug-free. This morning’s post went out with half the post lopped off. I apologize for that. The darned thing looked fine in previews.
Anyway it’s working fine now; you can find it at this link. Here’s the full text of the post.
This week’s episode of the podcast is a deep dive into a single issue: the decision by Quebec premier François Legault to double university tuition for out-of-province students, and to let individual universities keep less of the pricey fees paid by students from most countries outside Canada so that more of the loot can be divided among the other universities. I wrote about that October announcement here and here.
Along the way I’ve gotten to know Graham Carr, the president and vice-chancellor of Concordia University, better. I like how outspoken he is. So when Carr and his colleagues from McGill and Bishop’s Universities met Legault and the Quebec government’s higher-education minister, Pascale Déry — and when the English universities’ generous proposal to sharply increase French-language instruction for their students was dismissed with a few tweets from Déry — I decided to give Carr an episode of the podcast to make his case.
While he’s doing that, I think he’ll also introduce a lot of my listeners to Concordia, a big downtown university with a complex history and a fair amount of stereotypical baggage as a woke factory for entitled full-time protesters. (When Carr and I spoke, I wasn’t aware of a nasty clash at Concordia over Israel’s response to Hamas’s attack.)
I’ve got to say, at first glance I thought Carr and his colleagues were overstating the impact on enrolment of the higher tuition fees for out-of-province students. A really determined student and a really determined family can often find the money, even for artificially jacked-up tuition costs. But I’ve been hearing from friends with almost-university-age children, and a lot of them have simply written off Quebec as an education destination since Legault’s announcement. That’s because for the great majority of undergrads, there’s no particular reason to be determined to study in Quebec. One of the superpowers of post-secondary education in Canada is that so many institutions are pretty interchangeable. It’s simply not the case that if you don’t study at [insert name of really any institution,] you’re out of luck. So the price elasticity of these decisions is high. McGill (or, for bilingual students, Laval or Sherbrooke) will suddenly cost twice as much? On to Simon Fraser or StFX then!
So Legault’s tuition hike will end up working as well as some of his other major reforms, like whatever the hell he thinks he’s doing to public transport around Quebec City. I don’t think he’s been a bad premier for Quebec. Increasingly, though, he’s been hard to figure.
Carr’s not the only Montreal university president to reach out. The office of Daniel Jutras, the rector (equivalent to a principal or president) of the French-language Université de Montréal, sent an op-ed on the Legault tuition changes. It’s been published elsewhere so I didn’t send it out to you as a separate edition of this newsletter, but Jutras’s measured criticism of Legault’s policy is striking. To the extent the premier wanted to divide-and-conquer francophone and anglophone Quebecers, it’s not going great. Jutras writes:
“Unfortunately, this move will make Quebec university education decidedly unattractive for many. Moreover, it sends a message that undermines our conception of higher education in Quebec as inclusive and open to the world. As stated by the Minister of Higher Education, the primary purpose behind the changes is toachieve some equilibrium in the distribution of financial benefits that are drawn from out-of-province tuition fees. Again, there is nothing inherently unconscionable in this objective. It is true that some Quebec universities have a greater capacity to attract out-of-province and international students. It is legitimate, and not unreasonable, for the Quebec government to redistribute some of this windfall, a positive outcome of the excellent reputation that our universities enjoy in Canada and on the world scene. It’s just a question of how — and how much. Any measure that jeopardizes the very existence of a university or weakens it to the point where it can no longer be what it was should be ruled out.”
You can listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts and a bunch of other platforms via the “Listen On” button at the top of this post. You can download any episode to listen to it later, via the same “Listen On” button. If you listen on a podcast platform, smash those “Like” and “Subscribe” buttons, and leave a good review, to help spread the word. You can read a (machine-generated) transcript of this week’s episode via the "Transcript” button right over the photo at the top of this page.
I am grateful to be the journalist fellow-in-residence at the Munk School at the University of Toronto, the principal patron of this podcast. Antica Productions turns these interviews into a podcast every week. Thanks to all of them and to you. Please tell your friends to subscribe to The Paul Wells Show on their favourite podcast app, or here on the newsletter, where most episodes contain bonus material you can only get here.