Broadening our view of the world

Fall-Winter 2012

Photo: Richmond Lam

In a recent speech, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum spoke about the important role that international students play at McGill and at other Quebec universities. She addressed the topic again in a conversation with McGill News contributor Jake Brennan, BA’97.

In your presentation to the Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal, you argued that it was vital for Quebec universities to attract students from outside the country. Some would say that the government dollars spent on those students should go to other causes that provide a more tangible benefit to Quebecers.

That would be a short-sighted way to view the matter. Without question, studying with people from other countries gives Quebec students a broader view of the world and a global network of contacts upon graduation. At McGill, we believe a university education should help develop citizens who are familiar with the major cultures and religions of the world and who appreciate different experiences, different ideas and different points of view.

There is another factor. Quebec and Canada face huge demographic challenges, and international students can play a role in addressing them. They’ve been exposed to Quebec’s culture, to its values and to the French language. They form contacts that allow them to think about planting roots in Quebec.

Aldo Bensadoun is a great example of that. He was raised in Morocco and France, came to the US initially to study, but was attracted to McGill and completed his studies here. He stayed in Montreal and started Aldo Group, which has become an extraordinarily successful multinational company by any standard, and a Quebec jewel. There are many examples from the professions—medicine, law, engineering, the arts—of international students doing great things in Quebec after graduating.

Would you say Quebec universities are attracting enough international students?

Notwithstanding McGill’s extensive population of international students, overall, Quebec’s share of Canada’s international student population has declined from 33 percent in 2001 to 25 percent in 2010. That’s heading in the wrong direction. One key recommendation in a recent report on Canada’s international education strategy commissioned by the federal government is to double the number of full-time international students that Canadian universities recruit over the next decade. We have tremendous assets to promote in making Quebec an international student destination. Montreal is one of the most university-student intensive cities in the world. The cultural experience offered to students here is absolutely unique.

During the Quebec election, François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, complained that too many McGill medical graduates leave the province. What is your response?

We care deeply about keeping most of our graduates in Quebec, not just in medicine, but from all disciplines. Roughly 90 percent of our medical
students come from Quebec and about 75 per cent of our medical residents stay in Quebec upon graduation. We’ve worked hard to persuade our medical graduates—from Quebec and elsewhere —to see Quebec as a place where they’ll want to practice their profession.
But even when our graduates leave, they remain a strong asset for Quebec. In the fifties, about half of McGill’s medical students came from outside Canada, predominantly from the U.S. That network of McGill medical graduates in Boston, New York and California has been a tremendous source of scientific and professional collaboration.

Do you feel the new Quebec government’s decision to cancel tuition fee increases will be a positive step toward attracting international students?

Not at all. International students who come here can go anywhere in the world. The quality of the experience is what draws them here. We saw this with our MBA program. We recently deregulated tuition fees and began to invest more in our program, including in student financial support. Since the tuition fees were increased, applications to the program and student enrollment have both gone up. The program is increasingly popular with Quebec students. The quality of our MBA students remains very high.

I’m not a fan of American-style high tuition fees at all, but nobody wants a bargain-basement quality of university education, even if it’s free. I think that Canada has developed an effective tuition framework, where the average is $6,000 per year, plus differential fees for professional programs that cost much more to deliver.

What we need for the university system is more financial aid for those in need. Those who can afford to pay a bigger share, within reasonable limits—and I definitely believe in reasonable limits— should do that.


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