Montreal, Thursday, September 14, 2000 - The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has disclosed its position regarding Montreal-region universities, in connection with the debate surrounding the preparation of a policy on universities by Quebec's Education Minister, Mr. François Legault.
The Board of Trade, according to its president, Mr. Pierre Laferrière, believes that high-quality education at the university level is absolutely indispensable to the success of the Montreal region and, in particular, to the development of the new economy, which fuels the progression of Greater Montreal and of Quebec as a whole.
Mr. Laferrière stated that our universities are no longer able to compete effectively with other universities in Canada and the United States. Following a 22% reduction in government funding since 1994-1995, and with tuition fees frozen, our universities gradually lost their financial resources. They now have $9,500 per student, compared to $13,500 per student for Ontario universities and $15,000 for American universities.
"In this context, they are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit or keep highly qualified professors, and they are losing more and more students, who are attracted by the quality of courses and facilities at Ontario or U.S. universities," he said.
"The Board of Trade considers that the funding of Greater Montreal universities must be consolidated on an urgent basis in order to quickly close the gap with universities in the rest of Canada," he continued.
Mr. Laferrière noted that since Montreal universities are clearly public institutions, the greatest portion of the additional funding must come from the Government of Quebec. In this regard, the Board of Trade is asking the provincial government to return to the level of financing provided in 1994-1995.
"At the same time, the Board of Trade is proposing that the universities obtain all the leeway required to tie tuition fees to market conditions and, in particular, to the actual costs of teaching courses, market demand, salaries paid to graduates, and the popularity of certain options," he said.
"The liberalization of tuition fees will result in a selective increase in these fees. The Board of Trade believes that any increase must be accompanied by additional financing measures providing, in particular, a longer period within which to pay off student loans, in accordance with the income of graduates," he added.
"Moreover, the additional contribution should be provided through gradual adjustments and on the basis of an improvement in the quality of education provided. And the students must not be the only ones to pay for better university financing. The staff, the professors, management, society, and the business community must contribute toward improving the situation," he continued.
Mr. Laferrière stated that it is not normal that the general public, and hence a majority of the middle-class working population, should be required to defray all the education costs of individuals who will subsequently earn the highest salaries, namely, about 30% of young people.
In addition, Quebec students, who benefit from the best loans and bursaries program in Canada, pay only a little less than 18% of their education costs, compared to 33% in Ontario and 35% in the United States.
"Provided measures are taken to prevent any increase in tuition fees - even a segmented increase - from prohibiting any talented student from going to university, this liberalization is vital to university financing and also to ensure that the principal clients - the students - may speak with a little more authority as a result of their financial contribution," Mr. Laferrière added.
The Board of Trade also considers that our universities must make an increased effort to lighten the weight of certain structures and increase their capacity to adapt quickly to market requirements. This greater flexibility must also be reflected in the collective agreements that are binding on the universities in order that a higher quality of services may eventually be provided to the students, who are the clients of the universities.
In addition, the Board of Trade also acknowledges that the universities do not play a utilitarian role and that they must continue to be places in which to develop thought and knowledge. The Board of Trade does not therefore advocate a functionalist vision or a hierarchy of universities. However, it believes that universities should endeavour to distinguish themselves by more quickly and more specifically developing the sectors of excellence for which they are already recognized. For this reason, the Board of Trade supports the idea of partially targeted financing on the part of the government.
"Finally," Mr. Laferrière concluded, "we are aware that, for our graduates and students, the matter of tying tuition fees to the job market is problematical. We believe that, in this regard the business community is able to develop more practicums or "co-op" teaching initiatives."
The Board of Trade believes that society as a whole must take measures to acknowledge and support the importance of a very high-quality university education as an element that is indispensable to the success of society in general and the knowledge-based economy in particular.
The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has more than 7 000 members. Its mission is to be the leading group representing the interests of the Greater Montreal business community. The objectives are to maintain, at all times, relevance to its membership, credibility towards the public and influence towards government and decision-makers.