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Students walk in McGill University in Montreal on Oct. 13. The Quebec government is raising tuition rates for out-of-province and international students beginning in 2024.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

McGill University’s vice-chancellor warned that the Quebec government’s new plan to nearly double tuition fees for out-of-province anglophone students could jeopardize the status of the medical school, while Bishop’s University principal and vice-chancellor predicted a “catastrophic” impact that could wipe out a quarter of its budget.

Quebec announced last week that it is nearly doubling university tuition fees for English-speaking students from other provinces in the government’s latest effort to protect the French language. That would mean tuition for those students would jump to around $17,000, from nearly $9,000 today.

The province’s three English-language universities – McGill, Bishop’s and Concordia – have all criticized the plan.

Globe readers share their thoughts on Quebec’s tuition hike for English-speaking students

“These measures, if implemented, would have serious consequences,” McGill principal and vice-chancellor Deep Saini wrote in a message sent to faculty and students on Monday.

“Although McGill distinguished itself again last week as Canada’s top medical doctoral university, a near-doubling of tuition will make many think twice about their academic choices in fall 2024 and beyond.”

Mr. Saini was not available for an interview, nor did he respond to additional questions asking for more information about the potential impact to the school.

In his statement, Mr. Saini wrote that he has mobilized McGill’s senior administration, board members and teams across campus to demonstrate the negative effects these measures would have on the university, the higher-education sector, and on the whole of Quebec society, and is focused on working with government and partners to reverse the impacts.

“We are stronger when our doors are open – when we attract the brightest minds from Canada and the world, enticing and equipping them to build fulfilling, productive lives here,” Mr. Saini wrote.

Mr. Saini said more information is needed before the school can determine the potential financial impact of the tuition increase.

Quebec Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry, who did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, said last week that the current fee structure means the province subsidizes out-of-province students’ anglophone education at a cost of more than $100-million per year. Ms. Déry announced plans to claw back the higher fees from the province’s three anglophone institutions and use them to fund measures to attract more French-speaking international students.

Out-of-province Canadians make up 20 per cent of the student body at McGill, with 50 per cent from Quebec, and international students comprising the other 30 per cent.

Bishop’s University principal and vice-chancellor Sébastien Lebel-Grenier said the measures will have a disastrous financial impact on the school, making tuition for nearly 30 per cent of the student body “twice as expensive as anywhere else in Canada.”

“We stand to lose most of these students,” he said, adding that students who are not independently wealthy will be priced out of attending the liberal arts university in Sherbrooke.

While the university is still calculating simulations of the potential loss created by the changes, Mr. Lebel-Grenier said, on first glance, a quarter of their budget would evaporate.

“What we’re seeing is that it could be catastrophic in accounting terms. It could pose a threat to our continued survival,” he said. “It’s not trivial. It’s not a few percentage points of our total revenue. It’s very substantial.”

However, Mr. Lebel-Grenier said he’s hopeful Ms. Déry will provide support to cushion the blow of a potential impact at Bishop’s – something the two have been in talks about for the last few days.

Mr. Lebel-Grenier also said the change would dissuade prospective students and donors and send a negative message about the 180-year-old institution.

“This is really a threat to our identity and how we see ourselves as an institution of higher learning,” he said.

Concordia University president Graham Carr has echoed the same concerns and expressed regret over the change, saying there was no consultation between the province and the three anglophone universities on this policy.

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