Saturday, June 9, 2012

Comment: Increasing tuition in Quebec universities

Yesterday I went to hairdresser (yes, such things happen ...). The radio was playing, and at one time an add caught my attention: it was an add from the Government of Quebec claiming how much they were doing things to make education available for all.

That was kind of stricking, in the present context where the extremely unpopular planed increase of tuition led thousands of students to go in the streets, and the even more unpopular "Special Law 78" challenged democracy by forbidind the aforementioned students to do so.

I am not discussing here the scholar fees increase per se, there are numerous reasons which led people to think to do that. Some are goods, some are less, and alternative solutions may have emerged too. What is true, is that with the crisis, the grants pipelines are getting dry. This situation of crisis also encouraged funding organisms (which are themselves funded by the government, hence, when no money in the public treasure, there is no money in the funding agencies) to promote strongly  industry-oriented type of research, with half-half funding (half from private companies, half from public funding agencies), in fact resulting in an utilization of public research resources to "boost" country-specific industrial innovation potential. Once more, I am not criticizing that. It is a political choice, and I understand that the population (via the decisions of their elected delegates) want to use public money to boost the competitiveness of local industries. However, it has effects on universities.

In such context, Universities have to secure other sources of funding if they want to keep alive an independent research agenda. That is particularly true for some fields of knowledge traditionally difficult to fund (somehow, research on Arthurian literature gets a bit less funding than, let's say, cancer research). And sorry, there are no so many way to increase funding of a university: or you get more from government, or you get more from charities and fund raising campaigns (unlikely in situation of economical crisis), or you increase tuition. An accessory question is, however, how would universities use this new money. Would they use it to keep non-profitable (economically speaking) field of knowledge, or would it be used to develop and secure "fashionable" (and usually highly productive) research fields ? That is another question, I am digressing ...

Anyway, this increase of tuition could well result in an increase of the quality of the teaching (by having more money to recruit "star scientists" or to keep the best teachers), and could contribute to position back Quebec universities among the best world universities ... But in no case it would contribute to increase the access of university education to all ! Students usually have no money, and while reasonable grants are available for biomedical and other scientific students (ranging easily from 15,000 Canadian dollar a year for some NSERC grants to up to 60,000 (!) a year for the Banting grant ... which is in my opinion way too much, better to give 3 grants of 20,000 than one huge grant of 60,000, especially given that this grant failed to attract the best non-Canadian students due to the evaluation criteria ... another digression), students in humanities can hardly dream to get a grant of 2,000 to 5,000 Canadian dollar ... meaning, in no way enough to survive during long graduate studies.

Again, I am not critizing here the decisions made by the Government of Quebec, elections are coming soon, population will judge. Just, all this story (including the add in the radio) was a perfect example of very bad move in term of communication ...

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