Higher Education Strategy Associates

Back to (Red) Square One

Alex Usher and Joseph Berger

The Parti Québécois’ Tuesday night victory will have major effects on higher education in Quebec, but there are implications right across the country, too. Here are a few of them.

Inside Quebec, things are back to square one. The PQ has already told student leaders it’s cancelling the increases to tuition; recent improvements to student aid are unlikely to stick, since they were largely going to be funded via tuition revenue – but the PQ hasn’t made any proclamations yet. Students who have paid their bills will get refunds. Pauline Marois will hold a summit on university financing before proceeding with any policy decisions, though her preference is to index fees at 2011-12 levels. Just when the summit will occur – and how it could possibly enrich a public debate that has gone on for years – is unclear.

In the meantime, university students will pay less than they expected. But since 2012-13 budgets were based on increased tuition revenue, universities will be finding themselves with short- and medium-term budget gaps to fill. Perhaps Quebec university presidents who bemoan the inevitable cutbacks over the next few months will use the opportunity to reflect on whether laying low during last spring’s strikes was such a smart idea after all. One can only hope.

Additionally, Law 12 (née Bill 78) is effectively dead. Whether Marois has enough political capital to renew Bill 101 to keep Francophones and Allophones out of English CEGEPs remains to be seen.

There will likely be effects in Ottawa, too. The mere presence of Marois in office is likely to strengthen the hands of people in the Privy Council Office who prefer to bazooka anything with even a whiff of Section 92 about it. We go can thus more or less say sayonara to any initiatives in education and training. Research may be superficially unaffected, but even here, there’s going to be a lot more bean-counting going on in future. My guess is that significant efforts will henceforth be made to make sure that 24% of all money spent by CFI, the granting councils, and all the one-off PMO-earmarked research projects actually goes to Quebec.

(A tip for Government Relations-types: if you’re an ROC university looking for some PMO love for a pet piece of research infrastructure, why not start by finding an institution from La Belle Province with similar aspirations and make the pitch jointly? Saving the PMO the hassle of finding their own offsetting project might get yours to the top of the pile…)

It’s our decennial trip to the constitutional dentist, people. Get used to it.

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