Friday, September 10, 2010

McGill Math Sucks

Or we do a bad job of teaching politics.  Heather Monroe-Blum, McGill's principal (the chancellor or president in other systems), has been calling upon Quebec to let McGill increase its tuition.  The basic gripe is that as Quebec has decreased funding for its public institutions (all universities in the province, pretty much), it has kept a tight rein on tuition, meaning that universities are crunched.  So, the students predictably get upset. 

But they get upset because they do not understand math and depreciation and appreciation.  The student unions have done a great job of maintaining their organizations and their belligerence, but the reality is that the students actually should let the universities increase their tuition within reason (the rates are now around $1-2k per year for everyone regardless of ability to pay).  Why?  Because the tuition increase would largely and perhaps entirely hit the next generation of students, so they really do not have much of a financial risk immediately.  And, more importantly, the value of their degree is not fixed, but will vary.  If professors flee McGill because it falls behind in offering salaries, if the students cannot get into classes simply because McGill takes the easy route and lets in more students but keeps the number of profs constant, if better students go elsewhere because the infrastructure falls apart, then McGill's reputation will suffer and that will impact perceptions of the degrees of students have graduated in the past.  Students today have an interest in the well-being of their institution down the road.  Student unions apparently do not. 

The hearing had a marvelous moment where McGill was accused of wanting to imitate the North American model of higher education (whatever that is), gasp!!!!!  Monroe-Blum ran away from that quickly, not wanting to be tarred with the North American brush.  But this, like talking about the American health care system when discussing the limits of Canada's health care, is a good strategy for covering the entire debate in denial sauce.™©  Perhaps the N.A. model is broken, but the European one is not looking too good right now at all, yet folks here seem to idealize the European and demonize the American systems--with no real information actually deployed. 

PS:  I am thinking of opening up a new line of products: secret sauce and now denial sauce.  Any other sauces I should add to my new line?


quinn said...

The "North American model" is mostly an issue of QC politics, in that basically everyone has to pay lip service at the very least to the "QC model" which people think of as very different from the rest of Canada and from the U.S. It's deeply tied into QC's nationalism/"distinct society" beliefs, and it would have been extremely unwise for anyone from McGill to openly embrace the "North American model."

But I suggest that your economic self-interest argument simply wouldn't resonate with SSMU or left-wing student activists (who are some of the few involved in student politics, which leads to their issues being more represented). What matters isn't the individual's interests, it's the impact of raising tuition on groups. And they're not operating without information at all. I have personally provided them with studies that suggest that raising tuition does have disparate impacts on accessibility of higher educations, among other issues:
(see 4.6, Barriers to Post-secondary Education)

I've also shared with them arguments for deregulating tuition, such as the one you can find here:

So they aren't making choices in a complete vacuum. They just have very different preferences from what you seem to think is in their self-interest.

Steve Saideman said...

Thanks, Quinn, for the links and a heavy dose of reality. I concur that groups do have to be concerned about the rising costs of tuition. My point is mostly that they seem to think that the status quo does not have some significant consequences.

And I am suggesting that the group interests may not be the same as individuals'.

And yes, I understand the need to run away from anything called North American. I just, again, think it is a handy recipe for denial sauce.