McGill to Quebec legislators: universities need more funding

Munroe-Blum argues for a new relationship between universities and government

By Julie Fortier

Without increased funding, the quality and performance of Quebec’s universities will suffer greatly, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told the members of the National Assembly’s Parliamentary Commission on Culture and Education on Sept. 7.

“Quebec deserves to have many universities that shine among the best in the world with each fulfilling a distinct mission,” she said in French. “To achieve that, we must make education the priority in Quebec.”

McGill’s appearance before the commission is part of an accountability process in which the leaders of Quebec’s universities are called before the legislature every three years to discuss their performance and their plans for development. In addition to the commission hearing, universities submit a detailed report of their recent activities.

The McGill representatives, who also included Stuart (“Kip”) Cobbett, Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors, Provost Anthony Masi, and Pierre Moreau, Executive Director of Planning and Institutional Analysis, focused their presentation on three themes: McGill’s considerable contribution to Quebec society, the fragile nature of its hard-won successes and the need to modernize the relationship between the Quebec government and its universities.

Moreau explained the many ways the funding gap between the Quebec university system and the Canadian average – now estimated at more than $500 million a year – affects McGill: loss of professors, crumbling infrastructure and insufficient student support and services.

“There is a $4,000 funding gap per doctoral student, for example, between the support McGill can offer and that which other comparable Canadian universities can offer,” he said.

Moreau also noted how McGill must give back to the government a substantial portion of the amount it raises through the tuition fees paid by students from outside Quebec – $63 million in 2008 – while it remains one of only two Quebec universities that get no special funding for a distinct mission.

A substantial reinvestment in higher education is needed, as much from the government as from students, their families and the community, Munroe-Blum continued.

“Any new funding model should include a substantial and differential tuition increase to bring us up to the Canadian average, coupled with the reallocation to financial aid of a significant portion of the net revenue from this increase,” she said.

She also voiced concern about the additional regulations and uniform approach to university management and governance in the government’s Bill 100 and proposed Bill 38. Munroe-Blum insisted such an approach would hinder the universities’ quality, efficiency and performance.

“Everywhere else in the world, jurisdictions are moving in the opposite direction, toward more autonomous models that link accountability to performance. We propose the establishment of partnership agreements between government and universities that would tie the allocation of financial resources to key performance indicators.”

Predictably, McGill’s recent increase of MBA tuition fees prompted several questions and comments from members of the commission.

“The decision was discussed at length and we decided it was the only way to save the program,” Cobbett said.

To listen to the recording of McGill’s presentation:

To read McGill’s full report: