In a stated bid to preserve French and reduce the gap between chronically underfunded English and French universities, the Quebec government is hiking the out-of-province Canadian tuition fee — a financial barrier that some international students can bypass.
Starting in the fall of 2024, Canadian university students, including those from francophone minorities in Ontario and New Brunswick, will have to pay $12,000 per year — $3,000 more than French and Belgian francophone students studying in Quebec.
But France and Belgium aren’t the only countries whose students have been granted tuition exemptions.
The provincial government has student mobility agreements with 39 countries, sparing higher education students from paying roughly $20,000 in international tuition fees.
Quebec caps the number of exemptions granted to students enrolled in English-speaking institutions at 20 per cent of the total number of tuition fee exemptions in the province.
While there is no restriction on the number of French and Belgian francophone students, other countries with agreements have a limited number of students who can enjoy a tuition exemption. Those countries set their own criteria for parcelling out the province’s tuition exemptions to students.
Morocco seeks more exemptions for students
Mohamed El Mahdi Gaouane, the deputy head of the mission of the Kingdom of Morocco, said in a statement his country wishes to “increase and expand, as much as possible” the number of students who can benefit from its agreement with Quebec.
The province’s reciprocity agreement with Morocco dates back to 1980. At its height, the deal helped as many as 150 Moroccan university students, including 25 undergraduates, pursue their education — in French — at the provincial rate, Gaouane said.
The number of Moroccan students eligible to pay local fees has since tapered off to 90 a year, including 45 undergraduates, making Morocco the second-highest beneficiary of tuition exemptions in the province.
Countries next in line with the greatest number of students exempted are Algeria (83), Tunisia (65), Senegal (52) and Mexico (50).
Although Morocco is a French-speaking North African country, the student mobility agreement with Quebec isn’t strictly about promoting the French language, Gaouane said.
Morocco chooses recipients of tuition fee exemptions based on 11 priority sectors for the country’s socio-economic development, Gaouane said, namely STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
“Above all, the human connections that this mobility agreement creates is what is truly enriching,” he said. “Moroccan students may benefit from a North American, and therefore, an international experience.”
“We also hope that this can be the case for Quebec students who are also, of course, welcome to attend Moroccan universities,” he added.
Changes for Chinese students
China currently has the most university students enjoying discounted tuition (105) — with 19 undergraduates paying the out-of-province rate instead of the usual rate for international students, $20,618.
As of this fall, like Canadian students who are not Quebec residents, new Chinese undergraduates benefiting from exemptions will also have to pay $12,000 in tuition fees.
Chinese undergraduates who haven’t received exemptions must pay the minimum fees associated with international students, a spokesperson for the Quebec’s Higher Education Ministry confirmed. Universities are entitled to charge those students more than that amount.
The 86 exemptions reserved for Chinese graduate students which allow them to pay Quebec tuition rates will remain in effect.
A spokesperson for the Higher Education Ministry said agreements with countries benefiting from the Quebec fee have not been changed to increase the costs for their students.
French students keep special status
Students from France and Belgium’s francophone community will continue to benefit from a tuition exemption, allowing them to study at Quebec universities for $9,000 a year.
A reciprocity agreement between Quebec and France has given French students a special status in the province since 1978.
French undergraduates were entitled to pay the Quebec fee until 2015, when the Couillard government raised the costs to the Canadian, out-of-province price.
The international agreement facilitates French students’ access to world-renowned education, and for decades, it has eased their path to becoming permanent residents in Quebec with a smaller financial burden than many international students.
Quebec’s Immigration Ministry estimates that next year, the province will admit a total of 6,500 students through the Programme de l’expérience québécoise.
Belgium and Quebec are in talks to renew their student mobility agreement for francophones, but the “financial arrangements have not yet been finalized,” Charlotte Evrard, the mission head of the General Delegation of Wallonia-Brussels in Quebec, said in a statement.
As for rumours of Quebec entering a tuition exemption agreement with Switzerland, a spokesperson for the province’s Higher Education Ministry said in an email “we’re not there.”