Operating grants at Quebec universities will rise by 11.3 percent this year thanks to the provincial government’s new funding policy, although it changes crucial aspects of the way the grants are calculated.
Suzanne Fortier, vice-president of the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire, and principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, views the changes as positive. She particularly likes the simplified weighting that distributes funding on the basis of program costs. Previously, there were 538 factors that determined funding. With the new model, there will only be 107.
The policy ties part of the funding to the attainment of certain strategic targets. The Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU) fears that this signals a return to the performance contracts of the early 2000s which led to an era of cutbacks. However, Dr. Fortier sees this approach as recognition of each university’s unique mandate that depends on its region, language and areas of excellence.
The race for international students
In 2022-23, McGill University’s funding will be 9.4 percent higher than in 2016-17, a slightly smaller increase than the average. But the new policy gives it a powerful financing tool. Starting in 2019-20, tuition fees for non-Quebec residing students in undergraduate and master’s programs will be deregulated, with the exception of French (from France) students, francophone Belgians (because of bilateral agreements between Quebec and these countries), students enrolled in master’s research programs, and Canadian students from other provinces. In all, this new measure will apply to 25 percent of non-Quebec students.
In addition, universities will keep the tuition fees paid by international students, instead of handing them over to the government, as they currently do. On the other hand, they will no longer receive the standardized subsidies for these students. This represents a $12.8-million savings for the government, which will be reassigned to a total budget of $22.8 million, earmarked to help francophone universities recruit more international students.
“This worries us a little, because we don’t have the same capacity to recruit international students as the anglophone universities and the major francophone universities in Montreal,” says Jean-Pierre Ouellet, rector of Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR). “In addition, a large proportion of our international students come from France, and their tuition fees remain capped.”
UQAR will see its funding rise by 16 percent, well above the 11.3 percent average. Other universities that will qualify for increases significantly above the average are Université TÉLUQ (18.1 percent), Bishop’s (18.1 percent), École nationale d’administration publique (17.9 percent) and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (15.8 percent). There is a catch, however, explains Dr. Ouellet. “These projections are based on the assumption of constant student enrolment. But our region has fewer young people of university age. The funding increases could therefore end up being less than forecast.”
He says that the government has shown it is open to the idea of setting up a committee to counter the effects of substantial drops in student enrolment.
FQPPU president Jean-Marie Lafortune would like to see a future reform that would reduce the importance of student numbers in the funding calculation formula, with a larger proportion tied to the institution’s basic mission.
The FQPPU does appreciate the recognition of the different needs of regional universities. They will be able to count on a dedicated budget of $72.5 million, a rise of $6.3 million, which includes adjustments related to remoteness, territorial coverage and the size of the institution. Mr. Lafortune is also pleased to see the five-year funding plan. “In recent years, there have been mid-year cuts, which are difficult to cope with,” he says.
Like the two other rectors, he sees the new policy more as a catch-up measure than a major reinvestment – they all feel there’s still work to be done to bring the funding of Quebec universities up to the Canadian average.
Less money for rectors
New rules will govern the compensation of rectors. Salary increases will now have to be limited to the rates prevailing in the public and para-public sectors. New contracts will no longer be allowed to include performance bonuses or benefits such as payment of dues to professional associations, membership in private clubs or private medical services.
Suzanne Fortier regrets the abolition of performance bonuses, often a key component of executive pay. She points out that Quebec rectors are still paid below the average of those in other Canadian provinces.
This new funding policy would leave more room to recruit postdoctoral fellow in a dire need of a tenure position.