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Canada: Medium of instruction tax

EducationWorld February 2024 | International News Magazine
Francois Legault

Quebec premier François Legault: language chauvinism revival

McGill University, one of Canada’s top-ranked higher education institutions, is warning that a provincial policy to discourage English-language instruction through sharp tuition fee hikes is threatening its existence.

The move by Quebec premier François Legault “puts the university’s very future in question”, McGill said in issuing an estimate that the plan could cost the institution close to C$100 million (Rs.620 crore) a year and cause it grave reputational damage. Legault is a founder of the conservative-nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec party, which has put a priority on reviving the use of the French language in his province, the nation’s largest by area and second-biggest by population.

In recent weeks and months, Legault’s government — first elected in 2018 — has pushed a plan that imposes his French-language agenda on higher education through steps that include substantial tuition increases for Canadian students from outside Quebec and new French-proficiency graduation requirements for most of them.

That planned tuition increase for non-Quebec Canadians — to C$12,000 (Rs.7.44 lakh) per year, or 33 percent beyond current levels — is down from the Legault government’s initial suggestion in October for a rate of C$17,000. Yet it still would make McGill far more expensive for such students than top-tier competitors such as the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

The Legault plan, due to take effect this coming autumn, would also require that English-language institutions in Quebec give an overwhelming share of the fees they receive from international students — already running at about C$20,000 per year — to French-language universities. McGill estimates that the plan would cost it an annual budgetary loss of C$42-C$94 million (Rs.260-582 crore). Concordia University estimates a C$15.5 million initial-year loss.

The government’s goal for the use of the French language “is academically and technically unfeasible and will deter students from coming here,” McGill’s president, Deep Saini, said in issuing his institution’s cost estimate. The president of Concordia, Graham Carr, said that the mere threat of the policy is already costing Quebec higher education harm to its global reputation that “cannot be undone”.

Quebec’s French-speaking institutions have showed limited sympathy. The University of Quebec said the Legault government is taking steps aimed at “ensuring a better balance of income generated by international students between universities”.

And leaders of several other French-speaking institutions — including the University of Montreal and Laval University — say they don’t necessarily oppose the idea of taking resources from their more popular English-language counterparts, as long as the plan isn’t so extreme that it causes them great harm.

(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education)

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