Monday, May 10, 2010

More McGill Bashing

There's little doubt that for Quebec nationalists there's no more hated a symbol of perceived Anglo predominance and entitlement than is McGill University.
The fact that the university is a world class institution remains a hard to digest meal of humble pie for nationalist militants. The university's international reputation further underscores the fact that Montreal (contrary to what they would have the world believe) is in fact, home to a vibrant, successful and bustling Anglo community and it puts paid to the myth that the city is exclusively Francophone.

The list of famous McGill graduates is so impressive that comparing it to the combined total of high achievers emanating from all Quebec francophone universities, is like comparing the famous names that wore a Montreal Canadiens jersey to those of the Quebec Nordiques.

The university alumni boasts an impressive group of, ex-Prime Ministers, foreign leaders, renowned scientists and inventors, supreme court judges, doctors, artists and successful businessman. Last year the university added two more Nobel prize winners to the half-dozen previous winners, further widening the gulf of excellence between McGill and its francophone rivals, which combined, have a grand total of zero Nobel Prize winners.

Although McGill is an English institution, academically high achievers in the Quebec Francophone community flock to the school, boosting McGill's Francophone student population to almost 25%, another cause for consternation among French language militants. After all having the best and the brightest 'abandon' Francophone universities, in favour of McGill is particularly galling considering the low enrollment and under achievement that is the hallmark of Francophone institutions of higher education.

Even more aggravating to McGill bashers is the gulf between McGill's endowment fund and that of the Univeriste de Montreal (Quebec's premier Francophone university) - $800 million versus $110 million. This chasm can be explained by the success of McGill graduates in the business field and the propensity of Anglophones to donate money to their alma mater, a practice not largely duplicated in the Francophone community, reflecting a wide difference in the culture of giving.

And so, every couple of months a new attack is launched on McGill, repeating the mantra that McGill is 'overfunded' and that Francophone institutions are under-funded and suffer as a result.

It is sad to see that the latest attack comes not from extremist organizations like the SSJB but rather from the education ministry itself which came down hard against the university's decision to make major changes in it's MBA program.

It seems that McGill has decided that it's MBA program is losing ground to similar programs in other elite universities because of it's under-funding. Even at the modest funding level the university provides, the school collects less in tuition than it spends on the course. Since the program's chief beneficiaries are business types, many of whom are subsidized by their companies and in consideration that graduates will move into extremely high paying jobs, the university decided to put the cost of the program squarely on the shoulders of those benefiting. 

And so the university went to a private mode, whereby neither the government, nor the university would bear any of the costs of the program, resulting in a $30,000 a year tuition fee.

The education ministry went ballistic and demanded that the university reverse it's position based on the notion of accessibility, the idea that education is open to all students, not just those who could pay. The ministry threatened the school with equivalent funding cuts if they chose to go on with the tuition increase. The ministry felt confident that the general population would back their opposition to McGill's 'elitist" program. Bashing McGill on grounds other than language was a sly and clever political move designed to pander to the underlying dislike and jealously that most Francophones harbor towards the school. 

Within days, the Francophone academic elite were pumping out long articles in defence of the government's position, some using statistics, other emotion and still others basing their argument on the tried and true socialist model of Quebec society.

All was going according to plan, with McGill strictly on the defensive, until a pushback campaign was undertaken by many of Quebec's most successful businessmen, both Francophone and Anglophone.

In a letter sent to Quebec newspapers, Quebec's ex PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard as well as other concerned "Lucides" said in part;
"The government’s position is inspired by an outdated, socially inequitable model. It costs $22,000 per student to deliver one year of McGill’s MBA program, but McGill receives only $10,000 per MBA student from government, plus roughly $2,000 per student at current tuition levels. McGill makes up the $10,000 gap by taking support from other programs such as art history and social work.
But MBA students come back to school to maximize their job prospects and earnings potential, while art-history students don’t start classes having already been earning an average of $50,000 a year. And students in social work don’t graduate with the prospect of virtually doubling their income within three years - to $104,000 - as McGill MBA students do.......The ministry’s punishment will make it more difficult for McGill to deliver the kind of MBA program Quebecers deserve." LINK

In an advertisement in LA PRESSE  last week a group of 50 enraged Quebec busisness personalities attacked the position of the government as regressive, and inequitable, shifting the argument away from the French/English debate, something the government hadn't been bargaining for. The letter intimated that the government was badly out of touch with the direction that a modern Quebec needs to go and that it's policy is badly outdated.

At any rate the school hasn't backed down and with surprising support in the business community the government's 'no lose' position is no longer the winner it thought it was.
Surprisingly, outside the academic and sovereignist constituencies, people don't really care if a bunch of Anglos want to spend 30K in tuition on their eduction, the feeling being that if it frees up money for everyone else, so much the better.
This attitude is reflected in a poll a couple of months back in the Journal de Montreal that revealed that Quebeckers also had no objection to rich people paying for private medical care, again with the idea that it would free up money.

If the government thought that it's opposition to McGill's tuition increase, would somehow take the heat off them in relation to other scandals, they badly miscalculated, something that they've been doing a lot of lately.

Let's hope that they quietly abandon punitive funding cuts.


  1. I hope McGill doesn't back down.

    In fact, the more independent it remains from the gouvernemaman the better. And I'm hoping that if the PQ ever extends Bill 101 to Cegeps, McGill and Concordia will respond accordingly by opening up a freshman program for high school graduates. Something that would allow high school graduates to bypass the Cegep and ideally render the Cegep system obsolete.

  2. As good an idea is adski's, it can not be done. Because of CEGEP system, Quebec high school graduate still short one year. Remember that there are only 5 years of secondary education in Quebec. In fact, McGill and Concordia do have freshman programs for out-of-province graduates, those who have 12 years of elementary and secondary.

  3. I'm with Courchesne on this one..
    I don't lke two-tier health care and I don't want to see QUEBEC START TO BE SUBMERGED IN 2-TIERD EDUCATION. AFTER AN MBA AT MCGILL, WHAT NEXT?