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McGill Fined for M.B.A. Tuition Hike

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The following is a guest post by Steve Clarke, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.

Whenever I mention in this country that I went to college in Canada, I am almost invariably met with the response, “McGill?”  I have often wondered why that is so.  I mean, it is true that McGill has been ranked the top university in Canada by the country’s leading news magazine five years in a row, and Montreal is a great city, but I have come to the conclusion that the real reason is the name.  It just sounds a whole lot more prestigious than, say, the University of Toronto, which is generally acknowledged to be most excellent.  But the truth is that Canada does not have the same sort of distinction between public and private universities that exists in the U.S., and that largely accounts for the great discrepancies in cost in this country.

In Canada, all universities are subsidized by the government of their province.  When they accept these subsidies, they have to agree not to charge students more than provincially-established tuition rates.  In this sense, they are all state schools.  This year, the undergraduate tuition rates at McGill are $3,500 for Quebec residents, $7,100 for other Canadian residents, and between $15,500 and $24,500 for international students.  (In Canadian dollars, which is currently trading a little less than two cents above the U.S. dollar.)  Rates at other universities in Canada are generally a little higher, but even the highest undergraduate average in Canada is the relatively paltry (compared to the U.S. that is) $6,300 in Ontario.

Pretty nice, eh?  But there is a cloud in the sky.  In recent years, several universities in Canada have decided to forgo public funding for their M.B.A. programs and to greatly raise the tuition rates for M.B.A. students.  Their reasons were that these programs are expensive to operate and the high salaries M.B.A. graduates command justify the higher tuition.  In September of 2009, the McGill Tribune revealed that McGill was going to follow suit by charging M.B.A. students tuition of almost $30,000 per year.  This move was not approved by the provincial government and it has now struck back.  On March 14, 2011, the government announced that it was cutting McGill’s public subsidy by $2.1 million on account of the increase in the M.B.A. program’s tuition rates.

While this will save the province some money, its objective appears to be to get McGill to adhere to the provincial rate structure.  This leaves many questions open about the future of tuition rates in graduate programs in Canada.  Is “privatization” the future?  Will programs such as law continue to have special, but still subsidized, rates?  Or will there be a return to the traditional, more uniform tuition rates system?

By the way, my answer to the inevitable “McGill?” question?  “Bien sûr! But I went to law school in Ontario.”

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