By Neale McDevitt
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum used her last appearance at the Summit on Higher Education as a wake up call to the government.
“We can’t pretend that the $250-million in [budget] cuts that we’re expected to make won’t result in cuts in personnel and student services,” Munroe-Blum told delegates. “These are real cuts and the people who are going to lose their jobs are real people… While we leave here having made progress in some areas, we will also have to eliminate numerous programs that have taken us years to build.
“At the risk of repeating myself, the quality of Quebec’s teaching and research is at risk. Our economy is at risk,” Munroe-Blum warned.
The Principal’s declaration contrasted with the optimistic tone Pierre Duchesne, Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, tried to set in the final session’s opening remarks. “In years to come, we will talk about this Summit as the starting point of some important reforms that will restructure and refocus the missions of our universities,” Duchesne said.
Those education reforms will come in part from recommendations made by the five working groups set up to analyze post-secondary schooling as announced by Premier Pauline Marois, who also reiterated her government’s commitment to indexing tuition hikes of some 3 per cent beginning in September.
But Munroe-Blum was not the only delegate to level criticism at the government on the last day of the Summit. In fact, if the discussion of the final session was any indication it seemed many participants left the day-and-a-half event feeling a bit like to Québec solidaire’s Françoise David, who said she was “semi content.”
Université de Montréal Rector Guy Breton described Quebec’s university system as “anaemic” and said, “if we do not enhance funding, there will be programs in jeopardy, and this time it may be in medicine.”
The most vocal opponent to the government’s proposals was François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, and one of the premier’s main political adversaries.
“To maintain these $250-million budget cuts over the next two years is a serious mistake that will cause lasting damage and will take a long time to recover from,” said Legault. He noted that other provinces are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in their universities, while the École Polytechnique has already announced it will have to shut down fully equipped labs in face of the cash crunch.
“Indexation is a short-term solution for a government that only thinks in the short term and that I hope will only be in office for the short term,” he said. “The Parti Québécois has chosen not to give our universities the tools to be able to compete with the best universities in Canada or the world.”
To read a McGill Reporter recap of Day One of the Summit, click here.
To read a Reporter story on the Quebec government’s intention to raise tuition fees, as announced during the final session of Day One of the Summit, click here.