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University funding: Quebec should emulate France… but for the right reasons

Montreal, October 10, 2015 – The student demonstrations that took place in the spring of 2012 gave new life to the issue of free university tuition, with some citing France’s public university system as a model. A short documentary produced by the MEI shows that the Quebec university system could indeed take inspiration from the French example, but for the right reasons, reminding viewers that that system allows for the peaceful coexistence of almost-free public universities and Grandes Écoles.

In the video, Grandes Écoles students, professors, and administrators explain how France managed to establish a network of top quality institutes of higher learning that provide students with an alternative. Some Grandes Écoles are free, while others charge high tuition fees. Administrative methods and levels of autonomy vary from one institution to another. This kind of competition between different types of schools does not exist in Quebec.

“One myth promulgated by supporters of free tuition is that raising tuition fees prevents less privileged families from sending their children to university,” explains Jasmin Guénette, Vice President of the MEI and producer of the documentary. “In reality, the Grandes Écoles, by proposing various funding solutions to students from the middle and working classes, have proven that this is false.”

We learn in the video that 30% of Grandes Écoles students receive bursaries on the basis of socioeconomic criteria. “Historically, no one has ever been refused for financial reasons,” declare in concert three Deans of Grandes Écoles—HEC Paris, EM Lyon, and ESCP Europe—in the short documentary.

The university system in Quebec is similar to the French one in certain ways, except that universities here do not have the option of setting their own tuition fees. The funding per student that Quebec universities receive from the provincial government is comparable with what other universities elsewhere in Canada receive. The funding gap is due to the amounts covered by students. “Allowing Quebec universities to set their tuition fees themselves, based on the different programs they offer, as the French Grandes Écoles are able to do, would help address this situation,” maintains Jasmin Guénette.

“If France, a country with a strong egalitarian and interventionist tradition, allows healthy competition to exist between its university-level institutions and allows them a large degree of autonomy, I don’t see why Quebec could not emulate the best elements of this system,” concludes Michel Kelly-Gagnon, President and CEO of the MEI.

Conceived and produced by the MEI, the short documentary entitled “Ideas for a More Successful University System” can be viewed on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.

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Interview requests: Mariam Diaby, Communications Director, Montreal Economic Institute / Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2231 / Cell.: 514-668-3063 / Email: mdiaby@iedm.org

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