The government is preparing an action plan to improve access and success in universities – and it could provide additional funds to the sector.
Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Danielle McCann, will unveil an action plan this spring to promote access and success in CEGEPs and universities. This document is the result of more than a year of work on the Workshop on success in higher education [higher education success project].
Quebec college and university graduation rates have stagnated over the past 10 years. “In 2019, 29% of Quebec adults aged 18 to 64 had a university degree, compared to 32% of Canadians and 35% of Ontarians,” says Ms. McCann.
In response to these findings, former minister Jean-François Roberge launched the Building site on success project in February 2020. Ms. McCann took the reins when she took over in June. This project culminated in a consultation from February 1 to 5, 2021, which brought together 375 representatives of organizations and higher education establishments.
Discussions focused on four themes: access, transitions between levels of education, good practices adapted to the needs of the student community as a whole and the consolidation of knowledge about student success. “We will present an action plan this spring, and some measures will be launched in the fall,” said Ms. McCann.
This project was carried out in parallel with other discussions on “the University of Quebec of the future”, which ended with a report published in February 2021. This exercise has already touched on the themes of access and success , but the department wishes to focus two in particular.
A tailor-made solution
The Quebec Student Union (QSU) sent three representatives to the consultations. “We wanted to focus on issues of access and transitions, and on the inclusion of different student profiles,” explains union president Jade Marcil.
To encourage access and perseverance, the QSU has proposed some 30 changes to student financial aid programs. He is asking, for example, to extend the periods of eligibility for the student financial assistance loans and bursaries program and to adjust his living expenses to match the actual expenses that students have to pay.
The student union also called for improvements in transitions between educational levels. “Recognition of the special status of certain students and of the services and facilities to which they have access at one level of education should follow them to the next,” says Ms. Marcil. She adds that teaching practices must also be made more inclusive.
“Student success has always been a concern for us,” says Jean-Christian Pleau, vice-rector for academic affairs at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). “It is in the nature of our institution, so we were delighted to participate in a collective consultation on the subject.”
Before the consultation, the ministry invited universities to present a portrait of their institution’s success, including details on the problems encountered and the measures applied to promote access and success. Discussions were based on an analysis of these portraits.
Dr Pleau noted a great interest in inclusive education during the consultations. “We are moving from a model of individual integration that offered accommodations to support students with atypical profiles to an inclusive education model that aims for systematic change,” he adds. In other words, rather than helping the student adapt, faculties revisit the learning environment to remove barriers.
Her colleague Sylvie Quéré, director of academic support and development at UQAM, was struck by the similarity of the issues described by the institutions, despite the specificities of the regions or populations served. “Even between CEGEPs and universities, we see a lot of commonality, which opens up possibilities for collaboration,” she says.
One of the ambitions of the project is the sharing of best practices and the advancement of knowledge on success. “Our actions must be based on validated practices,” continues Dr Quéré. “It’s a double challenge: you have to both improve scientific knowledge on certain aspects of success and learn to transfer this knowledge in your areas of practice.”
Dr Quéré expects the action plan to lead to promising new guidelines, but also to increased financial resources. The ministry is aware that this is something that institutions are looking for and has forwarded these requests to be taken into account in the drafting of the next provincial budget *. “Quebec’s financial situation has of course changed because of the pandemic, but education remains a priority,” says Ms. McCann.
* Since this article was written, the Quebec government released its budget on March 25. The university sector received a 5.5% increase in its funding.