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Quebec wants more university graduates

The government is preparing an action plan to improve university access and success – and it may bring additional funding to the sector.

BY JEAN-FRANÇOIS VENNE | APR 07 2021

Quebec’s minister of higher education, Danielle McCann will unveil an action plan this spring to promote CEGEP and university access and success. This document is the result of more than a year’s work on the Chantier sur la réussite en enseignement supérieur [higher education success project].

CEGEP and university graduation rates in Quebec have stagnated over the last 10 years. “In 2019, 29 percent of Quebec adults aged 18 to 64 had a university degree, compared to 32 percent of Canadians and 35 percent of Ontarians,” says Ms. McCann.

In response to these findings, former minister Jean-François Roberge launched the Chantier sur la réussite project in February 2020. Ms. McCann took the reins when she succeeded him in June. This project culminated in a consultation from February 1-5, 2021 which brought together 375 representatives from higher education organizations and institutions.

The discussions focused on four themes: access, the transitions between education levels, best practices as adapted to the needs of the student community as a whole, and the consolidation of knowledge regarding student success. “We will be presenting an action plan this spring, and certain measures will be initiated in the fall,” Ms McCann said.

This project has been carried out in conjunction with other discussions on “Quebec’s university of the future,” which concluded with a report published in February 2021. This exercise already touched on the themes of access and success, but the ministry wants to focus on these two in particular.

A tailored solution

The Quebec Student Union (QSU) delegated three representatives to the consultations. “We wanted to focus on questions of access and transitions, and on the inclusion of different student profiles,” explains union president Jade Marcil.

To encourage access and perseverance, the QSU has proposed some 30 amendments to student financial assistance programs. It asks, for example, to extend the admissibility periods for the student financial assistance loans and bursaries program and to adjust its living expenses to match the actual expenses students must pay.

The student union has also called for improvements in the transitions between levels of education. “Recognition of the particular status of certain students, and the services and accommodations to which they have access at one level of education should follow them to the next,” Ms. Marcil says. She adds that teaching practices also need to be made more inclusive.

Inclusive education

“Student success has always been a concern for us,” says Jean-Christian Pleau, vice-president, academic affairs, at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). “It’s in the nature of our institution, so we were delighted to take part in a collective consultation on the subject.”

Prior to the consultation, the ministry invited universities to submit a portrait of success in their institution, including details on the issues encountered and the measures applied to promote access and success. The discussions were based on an analysis of these portraits.

Dr. Pleau noted a great deal of interest in inclusive education during the consultations. “We are going from an individual integration model that offered accommodations in support of students with atypical profiles to an inclusive education model that aims for systematic changes,” he adds. In other words, rather than helping the student to adapt, faculties are revisiting the learning framework to eliminate obstacles.

Added resources

His colleague Sylvie Quéré, director of academic support and development at UQAM, was struck by the similarity of the issues described by the institutions, despite the specificities of the regions or populations served. “Even between CEGEPs and universities, we see many commonalities, which open up opportunities for collaboration,” she says.

One of the project’s ambitions is sharing best practices and advancement of knowledge on success. “Our actions need to be based on validated practices,” Dr. Quéré continues. “It’s a double challenge: we have to both improve the scientific knowledge on certain aspects of success and learn how to transfer this knowledge to its areas of practice.”

Dr. Quéré expects the action plan to lead to promising new guidelines, but also an increase of financial resources. The ministry is aware that this is something institutions are looking for and has forwarded these requests to be considered in the drafting of the next provincial budget*. “Quebec’s financial picture has of course changed due to the pandemic, but education remains a priority,” asserts Ms. McCann.

*Since this article was originally written, the Quebec government released its budget on March 25. The university sector received a 5.5 percent increase in funding.

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