I am writing to provide you with an update on the Government of Quebec’s summit on higher education, which I attended. The event, held on February 25 and 26 in Montreal, was a step forward in the dialogue on the future of our universities.
The discussions shed light on key government policy and initiatives and allowed the participants to contribute their viewpoints on four major themes: quality, governance and funding, accessibility and participation, and research. Much more work has to be done, and some of this will be led by five working groups in the next several months.
On the issue of accessibility to higher education, the government proposed that tuition fees be indexed to the annual increase in Quebec families’ disposable income — roughly three per cent or $70 — with additional measures to help those students and families in financial need.
The government also announced its intention to reinvest in the university network starting in 2014-15, and promised a review of the funding formula for universities. This is important because this would allow universities to strengthen their teaching and research capacity.
Although this is welcome news for the future, we still face a significant challenge for the next 14 months. The government reaffirmed its decision to impose cuts on the university sector in 2012-13 and in 2013-14, for a total of $250 million. For Concordia, this means we must deal with a funding shortfall of $26.4 million and this will have wide-ranging effects across the university. We are going to have to make some difficult decisions. In the next few weeks, we will be in a position to provide you with more information about the impact of these cuts.
The government also unveiled initiatives such as the creation of a Conseil national des universités. University leaders have been in favour of creating an advisory body on higher education such as the Conseil, as long as it does not add layers of bureaucracy that slow innovation or infringe on universities’ autonomy in governance and in managing their development.
One encouraging sign from the summit was the wide support shown for research. Everyone seemed to agree on the need to strengthen the tremendous resource that our universities and research institutions represent for the Quebec economy and overall society. There was also acknowledgment that research should remain an integral part of the academic process at all universities, not just a select few.
I found the summit exchanges to be an invigorating contribution to the search for workable solutions to the funding and development of Quebec’s universities. I welcome the opportunity to help revamp universities’ reporting mechanisms to make them more efficient, transparent and strategic, and Concordia is prepared to contribute to that task. Like other university leaders, however, I urge caution in being too quick to make fundamental changes to the legal framework for our universities.
I am also wary of suggestions that the composition and structure of university boards of governors be standardized to a single model. Each of our universities is a unique institution with a unique history. Imposing a single board model would do a disservice to their respective legacies and futures. Concordia has already made significant improvements to its governance practices and revised the structure of its board to make it more efficient.
Overall, the summit demonstrated serious efforts to reach compromise. There was a collective effort to be inclusive, comprehensive and collaborative in examining how, through a financially sustainable and accessible university network, we can best advance Quebec as a society concerned for the well-being of its population. I look forward to working with our Concordia community and everyone else on the next steps.
• Alumni celebrate Concordia research
• Quebec Summit on Higher Education