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Montreal economist finds no direct link between tuition fees and enrolment in Canadian universities, despite Quebec’s 10-year freeze

Montreal, January 20, 2004 – Despite the Charest government’s repeated promise not to touch university tuition fees – frozen for 10 years in Quebec and the lowest in Canada – a new report by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) found that access to higher education is not directly related to admission fees.

The debate over university funding is already raging in Quebec, a few weeks before the National Assembly begins consultations on the subject. Student associations are promising to protect accessibility by opposing any tuition hikes, but a Montreal economist argues that their efforts may be misguided: lower tuition fees do not necessarily improve access to higher education.

Low enrolment

Economist Norma Kozhaya, author of the Montreal Economic Institute’s latest Economic Note, studied relevant data and found that although Quebec’s university admission fees are lower than elsewhere, its enrolment rates are also among the lowest in Canada. Some Canadian provinces, such as Ontario and Nova Scotia, have much higher tuition fees and higher enrolment rates than Quebec.

These numbers suggest that increasing tuition fees in Quebec would not necessarily reduce access to a university education, despite the arguments put forward by student associations. Other factors carry more weight in the decision to pursue higher education.

Under funding

Ms. Kozhaya notes that Quebec tuition fees represented 9.2% of university income in 2002-2003 (compared with 25.3% in Ontario, 26.2% in Nova Scotia, and 19.2% for Canadian universities in general), and concludes that the current tuition freeze may compromise the quality of higher education in Quebec without actually making it more accessible for lower-income students. Raising tuition fees would help solve the under-funding problem and bring Quebec universities onto the same playing field as those in the rest of Canada.

The MEI economist suggests that it would be better if each university had the freedom to adapt its tuition fees to its particular mission, financial needs, and competitive environment. Quebec universities vying for students against universities in other provinces could therefore maintain their competitive edge.

Question of equity

The Economic Note describes education as a rewarding investment in human capital. University graduates generally have much higher incomes than the average, and have a much lower unemployment rate than the active population.

“By broadly subsidizing higher education more heavily, the average taxpayer is in effect financing the high salary-earners of tomorrow,” wrote Norma Kozhaya. “It should be asked if it is fair for people who do not benefit from university to contribute to its financing to this extent.”

The MEI’s Economic Note has been sent to the Quebec Minister of Education and to all university principals and student associations in the province.

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This Economic Note is available in English and French on the Montreal Economic Institute’s Web site.

For further information or an interview with the author: Patrick Leblanc, Director of Events & Communications, MEI, Tel.: (514) 273-0969 or Cell.: (514) 347-4006 / Email: pleblanc@iedm.org

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