The government cutbacks will damage HEC Montréal's international reputation

December 14, 2012

Open letter from Michel Patry and Hélène Desmarais

The authors are the Director of HEC Montréal and the Chair of its Board of Directors, respectively

We were dismayed to learn that the Quebec government, in addition to cancelling the planned tuition fee increase, has decided to slash funding for Quebec universities for this year, just as the fiscal year is coming to an end.

Media editorialists, students, rectors and professors are all alarmed by this, and with reason. It must be said loud and clear: our universities are truly underfunded, and the Quebec system has nonetheless performed miracles with the means at its disposal thus far.

Take, for example, HEC Montréal, which has succeeded so well in fulfilling its mission. What was that mission back when it was founded in 1907? To enable Francophones to reach the highest echelons in the economy and business, in Quebec and around the world. And what is its mission in 2012? The same! But it must have the means to accomplish it.

Our programs have changed, our student body has grown and become more diverse, our research has skyrocketed, our networks and collaborative ventures have expanded, but HEC Montréal continues to pursue the same goal: to properly train tomorrow’s managers so that they can help develop our businesses and our society as a whole.

Over the years, HEC Montréal has earned its stripes on the world stage: it was the first Canadian university to obtain the three most prestigious international accreditations in its field, and the first French-speaking Quebec institution to make it into leading rankings like those of the Financial Times and Businessweek. These achievements have greatly benefited its graduates, of course, whose degrees open doors for them at home and around the globe.  

By brutally slashing the funding for our universities, the government is compromising access to a quality education.

The cuts announced last week, amounting to about $4 million for our School alone, jeopardize the quality of teaching and research. They are bound to affect our position in the national and international rankings, making it more difficult to recruit highly reputed professors and eventually undermining the quality of our teaching.

The proportion of the teaching load carried by lecturers, already much higher than at top institutions in Canada and around the world, will have to increase. The number of students per professor will also inevitably rise, and the quality of supervision, especially for Master’s and PhD students, will suffer. The same applies to the services offered for our students.

Our share of research funding will shrink, reducing the resources available for our research chairs and centres, and the number of graduate and postgraduate students we can accept. This in turn will deprive Quebec organizations of a pool of valuable brainpower.

What is more, these cuts will interfere with many of the School’s plans, such as ensuring that every BBA student at HEC Montréal can gain international experience, something employers look for. Or developing innovative teaching French-language materials for our new programs in accounting and organizational management in the health sector. Will we have to resign ourselves to using materials that ignore Quebec’s unique culture and institutions?

Not at all. We believe that we have to do even more. For we should be making complete, high-quality, relevant management training available to all our students.

This is what accessibility to higher education really means. Providing everyone with the same conditions for success and ensuring that we have managers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, architects and musicians with the most up-to-date skills and knowledge. We are not interested in offering access to bargain-basement degrees.

Quebeckers deserve to be able to acquire a top-flight education. But quality has a price. We must have the means to be the best we can be as a society. We need to agree on this once and for all.

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