Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.12

March 18, 2004


Brief to Quebec urges increase in funding

By Barbara Black

Concordia’s senior administrators appeared before the standing committee on education of the Quebec legislature yesterday in a determined effort to get more funding for both the Quebec university system and Concordia.

At the request of the CSU, the university gave CSU representatives five minutes of the university's 20-minute presentation time to address the committee.

Concordia’s brief, called Building our Future: The Challenge of Responsibly Financing the Quebec University System, supports the claim by CREPUQ, the association of Quebec universities, that in 2001, they would have needed another $375 million to meet Canadian standards.

The brief, presented by Rector Frederick Lowy to a bipartisan committee of members of the National Assembly, outlined both the serious funding challenges facing Concordia and the consequences of chronic under funding.

“Concordia’s government operating grant of $178 million must be increased to $248 million just to meet basic expenses,” Lowy said.

Millions of dollars must be found to hire 318 full-time faculty over the next five years, hire additional staff to support the growing enrolment and professorial corps, keep up with salary indexation, and maintain and expand urgently needed teaching and research space.

The consequences of the ongoing funding shortfall affects the capacity of the university to support research and keep talented faculty in Quebec. It also leads to higher student-professor ratios, overcrowding, and ultimately, an overall deterioration of the quality of education and the teaching and research infrastructure.

While stressing Concordia’s remarkable accomplishments over the last decade during a period of severe financial cuts, Rector Frederick Lowy told the committee, “The elastic band is stretched to its maximum, and we cannot continue in this manner without causing irreparable damage.”

In this context, possible solutions were put forward, including co-operation between provincial and federal governments to inject public funds into post-secondary education. Dr. Lowy said, “If these options can be implemented speedily, they would be, in our view, the preferred means.”

On the other hand, one of the measures suggested by CREPUQ, examining the longstanding freeze on tuition fees, could only be entertained if urgently needed increased government funding to the universities is not forthcoming and only if certain strict conditions are met.

Garry Milton, Executive Director of the Rector’s Cabinet, said in an interview, “Everybody would like to see low tuition, but any potential fee increases must be accompanied by a substantial increase in financial aid to needy students.

“Educational standards must be maintained or enhanced and access to university must not be jeopardized, particularly for Quebec’s own students."

To soften the blow of any possible tuition increase, Concordia’s brief suggests looking at creative student loan programs such as those being tried in England and Australia. The loan would not have to be repaid until the graduate’s income reaches a given level.

Milton said that if tuition were increased from $1,800 by $2,100 to reach the national average of roughly $4,000, it would generate $48 million in additional revenue for Concordia. As the brief suggested to the committee, if universities were obligated by government policy to dedicate 25 per cent of this increase to bursaries for students in need, about 6,000 of Concordia’s FTE students would be entirely sheltered from paying any increase at all.

The brief cautions against adopting a two-tier funding formula favoring the institutions with medical schools. It also warns that if Quebec universities can’t offer competitive salaries to promising scholars, they risk becoming a “farm team” for junior faculty on their way to more lucrative jobs elsewhere.

Despite government predictions that Concordia’s enrolment would decline, Concordia has shown remarkable growth — about 35 per cent over the past five years. Milton said our current plans call for us temporarily to cap our growth at 25,000 full-time-equivalent students — it is now between 23,000 and 24,000 — until we catch up in hiring faculty, staff and building infrastructure.

See the full text of Concordia's brief as well as the text of Dr. Lowy’s speech to the education committee at