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Michelle Courchesne (Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press Images/Mario Beauregard)
Michelle Courchesne (Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press Images/Mario Beauregard)

Quebec threatens to penalize McGill for raising MBA tuition Add to ...

Treating the university like an unruly student, Quebec says it will punish McGill over its plan to dramatically increase tuition fees in its MBA program.

The dispute between Quebec and the top-ranked university has turned into a showdown over funding: McGill, facing chronic underfinancing, says it needs more revenues to maintain quality, while the government says it has the ultimate say over setting fees.

McGill announced it would jack up tuition for its MBA program starting this fall to nearly $30,000 a year, from about $1,700, for Quebec students (out-of-province and international students pay more). The university said it needs the revenues to stay competitive, and its higher rates still fall below those at similar MBA programs in Canada.

Why should Quebeckers accept that we give [McGill]the same amount of money [as other universities]while they are asking $30,000 from individuals? Education Minister Michelle Courchesne

But the hike put it on a collision course with Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, who sent McGill notice that the government would impose sanctions: It would claw back close to $30,000 in financing for each MBA student from Quebec, in a bid to eliminate any advantage from the tuition hike.

Ms. Courchesne said tuition is the responsibility of the government, which is intent on maintaining an even playing field for universities.

"Our responsibility is to ensure that the quality of teaching is comparable across Quebec," she said. "Why should Quebeckers accept that we give [McGill]the same amount of money [as other universities]while they are asking $30,000 from individuals? I don't think it is a good use of public funds."

The dispute at McGill mirrors similar conflicts across Canada, as underfinanced universities struggle to increase revenues. Provincial governments have rejected several university requests for fee increases in professional programs such as medicine and law, although Quebec may have gone furthest by slapping on a sanction.

McGill refused on Tuesday to say what its next move will be, or whether it will back down. The two sides appear to be at a stalemate.

"It's up to them to decide whether they're going to proceed or not," a spokeswoman for Ms. Courchesne said.

McGill says it moved to a self-funded model at its Desautels Faculty of Management because it couldn't sustain its existing program. The MBA program costs McGill $22,000 per student, while the university receives $12,000 a year back in tuition and government grants. "In essence, McGill University currently subsidizes an MBA education by approximately $10,000 per student per year," the university has argued.

The university also said it wasn't able to invest enough to keep its MBA program at a "world-class level." The Desautels School of Management was one of six Canadian business schools to make it into the top 100 schools ranked by the Financial Times of London for 2010.

Ms. Courchesne, however, says other Quebec business schools make do with their funding.

"They [McGill]say that charging $30,000 will let them increase the quality of their teaching and compete with other universities in Canada, the United States and others in the world. I cannot accept that argument because we have excellent schools" in Quebec, Ms. Courchesne said.

Although the hike has raised concerns it would curtail access, the head of the Desautels MBA Student Association has endorsed it. McGill had also pledged to increase its scholarship fund.

"When you look at the education we receive, in terms of the market value, it's definitely fair," said Dave O'Brien, president of the association. "I think we're getting our money's worth. Before, it was too good to be true."

Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in Canada. The recent provincial budget called for a hike in 2010 by an undetermined amount.

With a report from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec City

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