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Aerial view of the McGill University campus in Montreal on Nov. 21.SEBASTIEN ST-JEAN/AFP/Getty Images

McGill University is freezing the hiring of academic and administrative staff to cope with anticipated financial challenges related to Quebec’s plan to nearly double tuition fees for Canadian students from outside the province.

In a note to university staff late Friday afternoon, McGill provost and vice-principal (academic) Christopher Manfredi said the goal is to reduce the number of employees through attrition rather than job cuts, as salaries represent the largest part of the university’s operating budget. McGill will also suspend all recruitment processes already under way.

However, teaching assistants, course lecturers, post-docs, and research assistants and associates are not affected by the freeze, which is effective immediately, Dr. Manfredi said.

“The financial conditions that we will face over the current and upcoming fiscal years are deeply worrisome,” his note says.

McGill’s hiring freeze is the latest response to the provincial government’s new policy, announced in October, that will see tuition for non-Quebec Canadian students jump to about $17,000 from just below $9,000 annually. These undergraduates will now face some of the highest out-of-province fees in the country.

The measure is expected to have a dramatic impact on enrolment at the province’s three English-speaking universities – McGill, Concordia University and Bishop’s University – which attract thousands of students from elsewhere in Canada.

Quebec Premier François Legault’s government has also said it would claw back and redistribute some of the revenue from international student fees, which will have a significant impact on the anglophone schools as they attract larger numbers of such students.

Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry has said the province spends more than $100-million annually subsidizing the cost of postsecondary education for students from outside the province, and that some of this money will now be redistributed to French institutions.

Minister of the French Language Jean-François Roberge has said the government was acting to counter Concordia and McGill students’ contribution to what he called the decline of French in Montreal.

Ms. Déry’s office did not immediately respond to The Globe and Mail’s request for comment Saturday.

In his note, Dr. Manfredi warned that “should the Government proceed with any version thus far proposed of its plan, additional extraordinary measures will be necessary” at McGill over the next financial year, without specifying what those measures might be. He said “activities that are not mission-critical” would be assessed and potentially put on hold over the coming weeks.

The new tuition policy has been met with criticism from both anglophone and francophone university leaders, as well as from parts of the business community.

In a note dated Nov. 23, credit rating agency Moody’s said the government’s plan is likely to negatively impact the credit of McGill and Concordia, the two English-language universities they rate in Quebec, as it will put downward pressure on demand from out-of-province students.

La Presse reported Wednesday that Quebec was considering reducing the tuition hike for out-of-province Canadian students to about $12,000, which is still significantly more than elsewhere in Canada.

At the University of British Columbia, for example, domestic undergraduates pay between $5,800 and $9,400 a year, approximately, depending on the program. At the University of Toronto, Canadian out-of-province undergraduates pay just below $6,600 annually for all programs except management, engineering and computer science.

McGill University Non-Academic Staff Association president Judy Dear said in an interview that the hiring freeze is “very, very distressing to our membership.” Many members “have reached out to us with concerns about their employment security and so forth,” she said.

McGill Association of University Teachers president Peter Grutter said he needed to consult with his colleagues before commenting on the university’s announcement.

McGill University principal Deep Saini said last month that the proposed policy would have devastating consequences for enrolment that could lead to tens of millions in lost tuition revenue, hundreds of job losses, the rethinking of infrastructure projects and the suspension of some sports teams.

Concordia has said that its revenues for out-of-province Canadian students and international students could drop by more than $30-million each after four years.

Bishop’s very existence is threatened by the new policy, the institution has said, but the government has said it’s working to address its impact on the university located in the Eastern Townships.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that University of Toronto engineering students, along with those enrolled in management and computer science, are exceptions to the university's Canadian out-of-province tuition fee of just below $6,600 annually.

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