Low fees policy upsets balance

June 12, 1998

Quebec and British Columbia are the odd men out in Canada where other provinces have let student tuition fees spiral since 1995. They have kept fees low for political motives but are starting to creak under the pressure.

Quebec decided to charge students who had moved there from neighbouring provinces to study more cheaply than the Canadian average fee. But the measure left universities disgruntled because they did not get the extra revenue.

It was also seen as antagonistic in the rest of the country and has particularly annoyed McGill University, a popular English-language Quebec school.

Tara Wilson, spokeswoman for British Columbia's minister of advanced education, training and technology, said BC is waiting at least two years to see if out-of-province students start to overcrowd their universities before deciding to introduce two-tier fees.

Funding is the root of the fee question. Provincial governments will have Can$8.5 billion (Pounds 3.8 billion) less in federal-transfer payments by 2000 for higher education than they had in 1993. Most provinces have slashed higher education budgets by as much as 25 per cent and raised fees.

The highest fee rises are in Ontario, where medical students entering the University of Toronto this autumn will pay 61 per cent more than last year's first-years.

Desmond Morton, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said Quebec and BC were politically vulnerable if their degrees continue to be cheaper than their neighbours'. "Their taxpayers could become grumpy as they see their province providing the social policy for the rest of the country," he said.

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