Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.3

October 9, 2003


Administrators get warm reception in Quebec City

by Barbara Black

Rector Frederick Lowy and his team were all smiles when they returned from Quebec City on Sept. 30. They had just appeared before a National Assembly all-party education committee.

“I don’t know if it was the change in government or the fact that we had such good news to report, but it was the best reception in all the years I’ve been here,” Dr. Lowy said afterwards.

The speakers from Concordia pointed to the steady growth in enrolment across the board — in the humanities, social sciences, science and technology and the arts, and including international students and graduate students.

They indicated the remarkable capital investment in new buildings and infrastructure now underway, and they noted that once again this year, the university is balancing its books.

However, Dr. Lowy told the committee, “Our struggle to balance the budget each year comes at a price. We have had to sacrifice some important objectives to avoid deficits in the face of underfunding.”

Although Quebec provides higher grants to universities than other provinces, the network is being shortchanged. A joint study by the Ministry of Education and the Quebec universities last year found that relatively speaking, they are making do with $375 million less than universities in Ontario.

Quebec, while it has risen substantially in every other province. Dr. Lowy said that he doesn’t feel strongly about which option the government takes — increasing its operating grants or allowing tuition to rise — but something must be done.

Raising tuition is “a social and political decision,” and for the time being, the status quo will likely prevail. He is well aware of the views of student activist groups, but added, “I’m not sure that all Concordia students are in agreement with them.”

The Canadian Federation of Students – Quebec, of which former Concordia Student Union president Rob Green is a researcher, looks to more government funding as a solution. The Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, which represents 225,000 university and CEGEP students, is planning a demonstration this week against lifting the tuition freeze.

At the hearing in Quebec City, the Concordia administrators expressed their opposition to a suggestion by three universities (McGill, Laval and the Université de Montréal) that the province should adopt preferential funding for research-heavy institutions.

Dr. Lowy said, “We agree that the higher research overhead costs borne by the more research-intensive universities should be compensated for, but this is now already done by the differential payment of the indirect costs of research by both the federal and provincial governments.” In an interview, Dr. Lowy said Education Minister Pierre Reid has convened a new commission on university funding to meet in January, and it will involve many of the same people who listened with such attention to Concordia’s presentation on Sept. 30.

He added that the current regime is well placed to respond to the challenges facing universities: Reid is a former rector of the Université de Sherbrooke, and his deputy minister is a former head of the Université du Québec network.