Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tuition and language politics

Maybe all of the following is obvious and widely-known; I haven't seen it discussed, though.

The "distinct society" portion of the tuition conversation has been mostly about the transfer of authority over higher education from the Catholic Church to the Quebec state in the wake of the Quiet Revolution, and the conscious commitment to work toward a social-democratic model of tuition-free higher education. But it seems to me that there's also a strong relationship with language-population politics.

The Quebec higher education system has several relevant distinct features:

1. CEGEP/ college education going to grade 13
2. Following directly from that, a 3-year university BA
3. A differentiation between tuition for in-province and out-of-province Canadian students-- standard in the US but, I believe, unique in Canada Update: not unique, I'm told in comments, but I'm having trouble coming up with general information. So far it looks to me as if Ontario, BC, Alberta, and Calgary all have uniform Canadian tuition rates, without provincial differentiation. More information, please!)
4. Very, very low in-province tuition-- not 0, but much closer to 0 than to tuition in Ontario or California.
5. Unusually high provincial levels of taxation

I treat (5) as part of higher education policy because defenders of low tuition insist that students aren't trying to avoid paying for their educations; they'll just pay for them later through taxes rather than up-front through tuition; and that this moreover prevents low tuition from being a regressive subsidy to the middle- and upper-class students who are most likely to attend university. And of course it's importantly connected to (4).

Now, the first thought I had in looking at all of this was, "anomalously low tuition and anomalously high taxes to pay for it can go together in a closed society where the same people spend their whole life cycle in the same tax-and-spend system, and the closed society is a convenient assumption for some social democratic modeling, but its empirical falseness means that the micro-level fairness story fails. You'll get people getting their cheap educations and then leaving, while others who have paid full price for a university education elsewhere, or even out-of-province tuition here, migrate here and then pay again through the tax system." Now, one unattractive feature about that from my perspective is that it creates a possible sense that people are doing something wrong, shirking their fair share of the burden for their own education, by out-migrating; I think that's an illiberal norm to run a society on. But on its face it also looks fiscally unsustainable: everyone's incentive is to get the education and then get out. And then I thought to myself, "discouraging out-migration is an important part of the preservation of The french Fact. So I'm missing something."

Separate the population into three groups, and look at how the system works for each.

1) Out-of-province students have roughly neutral incentives to come to university here, but a disincentive to come to university and stay. Out-of-province tuition is roughly comparable to tuition elsewhere in the country (though still lower than Ontario), and out-of-province students get the standard 4-year degree since they didn't go to CEGEP, so if they just come get a BA and leave again they're neither getting any special discount nor paying any special price. But if they come and stay, then they've paid 4 years of normal tuition rather than 3 years of cheap tuition, and then they spend the rest of their lives paying taxes as if they had benefitted from the discount rate. (The same is true-but-moreso for international students.)

2. In-province anglophones have an incentive to do what I described above: get a BA on the cheap by paying three years of low tuition, then migrate out to anywhere else in North America where their taxes will be lower. The incentive to stay local for the BA is very steep.

3. In-province francophones face the same financial incentives as in-province anglophones: a huge incentive to stay local for the BA, since the three-year low tuition degree is vastly cheaper than a four-year normal-tuition degree elsewhere. Then-- here's the part that puzzled me-- they have an incentive at the margin to leave when the high taxes kick in.

But exit in post-collegiate early adulthood is a lot easier for anglophones. They've got, roughly, the whole Canadian and American college-educated labor market open to them, and they enter it on an equal footing with those whose educations were anywhere else in North America.

If English is neither your first language nor the language of your university education, it's a lot harder to suddenly jump into the educated-labor market of anglophone North America at age 22 or 25. You're starting at a disadvantage in that market that doesn't apply if you stay close to home. If, by contrast, you had left home for an English-language four-year education, you'd be a lot more likely to, as it were, defect, and take advantage of the economic opportunities open to anglophone university graduates in other parts of the continent.

So the system as a whole acts as a financial disincentive to permanent in-migration from the rest of North America (and NB that French citizens pay in-province tuition rates, not international tuition rates) and as a marginal incentive to out-migration for anglophones once they've gotten their college educations. But for francophones from Quebec, it acts as a strong incentive to stay at home for university education, a moment when there might otherwise be an especially high risk of permanent out-migration, and a marginal reduction in their ability to out-migrate later.

In other words, even if some number of high-earning francophones leave (and therefore never "pay back" the cheap university educations they receive) the system broadly tends toward making francophone Quebec a more self-contained economic world in which people do spend their whole life cycles, while simultaneously subtly encouraging anglophone out-migration and discouraging anglophone in-migration.

This, perhaps oddly, makes me slightly more sympathetic to the system than I would otherwise be. (It also, of course, makes it more sustainable than it would otherwise be; it significantly retards the get-your-cheap-degree-then-get-out dynamic.) Francophone Quebec does need to be a partly self-contained economic world to be sustainable; a large steady outflow of 18-year olds who never came back could be the beginning of a downward spiral in the viability of the French Fact. (Note, too that a bloated civil service is often a part of this kind of system in postcolonial societies; it provides jobs for a surplus of locally-highly-educated workers.) Of all the possible policies to sustain the French Fact on a population basis, this tax-and-subsidize policy is on the low-coercion side. (It might, probably does, depress the overall prosperity of Quebec, and that has to go into the calculations too; in the long term, la survivance will depend on an economy that is successful, competitive, and attractive, not just one that is self-contained enough to discourage emigration.)

But-- if I'm right about all this-- I do think it's worth acknowledging the uncomfortable truths that the system operates to diminish the mobility of local francophones, indeed depends on doing so, while simultaneously greasing the slide out of town for local anglophones.

This is all back-of-the-envelope modeling, and I'm entirely open to correction and instruction in the comments. See also: Kymlicka and Patten, eds., Language Rights and Political Theory; and an article of mine defending the compatibility of ethnocultural federalism geared with an emphasis on preserving the national minority's culture with liberalism.


Iain Macdonald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Iain Macdonald said...

Very interesting. A note: Simon Tremblay-Pepin, a researcher with the Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économiques (IRIS), said recently on RDI that he considers the emigration phenomenon to be a negligible factor in relation to fee levels. (He did not make a distinction between French and English speakers.)

Brian Cowan said...

This is an interesting post and it reflects some of my own thoughts about how the Quebec system works. My own take is that it might overemphasize the influence of fiscal factors for the migration decsions made by Quebec francophones. Many of the francophone students I've taught at McGill have had the option to leave and go elsewhere: some choose to stay because they wanted to be closer to their family and friends, others choose to pursue opportunities elsewhere. None of them have said 'I don't want to pay higher taxes in Quebec' or 'I feel an obligation to pay back the cost of my education'. Either they don't want to put matters so crudely, or (more likely) they just don't think like that.

I wonder if there is reliable data available on post-university emigration out of Quebec?

The post also raises the issue of whether it is worth considering new models for financing education through post-degree excises. Is it feasible to impose an 'exit fee' on Quebec students (or their prospective foreign -- i.e., non-Quebec-based, employers) who choose to leave the province after having received a subsidised degree there? This would allow foreign employers to hire Quebec-educated labour 'at cost' and provide an incentive for all students educated in-province (at low or no tuition) to stay in the province.

Another unorthodox (and surely unpopular) proposal that comes to mind is to allow the Quebec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport to impose an education excise tax on leisure and sports expenses. Those revenues could be directly remitted to support for higher education. To my mind, this retains the virtue of the US model of using sports teams to build 'brand loyalty' to higher education whilst avoiding the problem of corrupting institutions of higher education by creating over-mighty athletes and coaches. The problem of course is that it's hard to build brand loyalty to an excise tax. But if it can happen anywhere, Quebec is the place.

Victor said...

Brian: There's plenty of reliable data on physicians, less so on other fields.

This is just another aspect of the unstated linguistic divide in university funding. My suspicion is that UdeM, the top francophone university in Quebec, competes with other top universities in France, Belgium, Switzerland for faculty and graduate students. All those universities function on a similar model of capped tuition and government funding.

McGill competes with universities in the US and the rest of Canada, which have uncapped tuition and a much lower percentage of government funding. But it's bound by the same funding model and tuition caps.

Sports taxes won't cut it. McGill just asked to join the Ontario football league because the Quebec league is too tough and the season too long. Short of doing what the University of Chicago did and tear down the stadium to build a library, there's little more you can do to downgrade your sports franchise.

The problem is that the interests of the universities--especially a university like McGill--are in conflict with those of the State. The current setup benefits no one. The answer for McGill is to be weaned off the government teat and allowed to raise its own money, through tuition or private funds or whatever. But I doubt that two funding models can subsist in the same province, much less that it's politically feasible.

Anonymous said...

One thing I did notice about the blog (nothing to do with your opinions); there are some factual errors. It is not at all true that Quebec is the only province with a distinction between 'in province' and 'out of province' tuition fees. Many other Canadian provinces (if not all) have different fees for in province and out of province student fees. The other thing - and this seems to be a very common misconception - is that other provinces do have 3 year B.A. Even Ontario has a 3 year B.A. from which one can get into a Master's program. There is no Cégep, true. And in Ontario there is no longer Grade 13. Students can go directly from Grade 12 to university, and get a 3 year B.A. and then do a Master's. I know this for a fact, as a family member did this very thing and just graduated this year with her Master's from U of T. I also did a 3 year B.A. and went right to a Master's at McGill - no Honour's degree necessary (a while ago mind you, but it is still done).

John Protevi said...

If it's the case, as Iain's cited expert claims, that out-migration isn't that important an overall factor -- which would mean the studies on physicians Victor cites are not replicated across professions with enough force to affect the overall scene -- then to have a model that captures the phenomena we would want to have a mixed population of agents.

That is, in addition to the agents posited by Jacob who are (solely, or even mainly) sensitive to purely monetary motivations, we would want to mix in some ratio of agents with positive internal motivations to staying in Québec: family ties, loyalty to the idea of Québec as a social democratic polity, and something like Aristotelian philia a commitment to or allegiance to or love of those fellow citizens with whom you share your life.

Something of that philia shines through here, though admittedly in very intense form:

Jocelyn Maclure said...

Thanks for this post Jacob. It's true that migration patterns are a blind-spot of the current debate. It's unfortunate that P. Dietsch is not around this year. I also suspect that you're giving too much weight to taxes (high for North American standards) as an incentive. Leaving for work is increasingly a real option for the younger generations of francophones. QOL factors, in addition to cultural/linguisitic ones, have to be factored in. Especially for families; it's anecdotal, but I have many friends in the US dreaming about our parental leave + childcare policies (this is also true, but to a lesser degree, elsewhere in Canada). That said, this is a much welcome contribution to the debate. It seems to me that our colleagues who favour tuition freeze or no tuition fees at all need to address out-migration issues.

Jacob T. Levy said...

M. Tremblay-Pepin is an advocate-researcher. I haven't been able to find this discussion of emigration being "negligible" so I don't know what it means or whether it's a research conclusion or an opinion. But given the strength of his normative commitment, it could certainly be that he considers it negligible just because it's not a large enough factor to undermine the stability of the whole system; that doesn't mean that it has no meaningful effects.

John Protevi and Brian Cowan: discussions of incentives are discussions at the margin, not discussions of the whole of human behavior. I'm trying to make sense of the incentives at the margins. And I'm building in what you're both offering as something like counterevidence: that many people make their migration-or-not decisions for reasons other than finance. Brian, I think "opportunities elsewhere" does include taxes and cost of living as well as income as components; it wouldn't make any sense for anyone to care *only* about taxes rather than caring about them as a component of their total financial calculation. And John, it's simply, absolutely false that I posit agents who are only or mainly motivated by monetary considerations. Again: analysis of incentives is analysis at the margins.

I don't think we have to dress up the normal human emotions of affection for the familiar and for staying close to friends and family with politicized Greek, or to pretend that that affection is primarily ideological. Montreal's a great place! People love it! I love it in spite of a politics whose spectrum runs from "corrupt and basically managerially incompetent social democrats" to "secessionist-nationalist social democrats!" And the sympathy I express for projects to protect la survivance is predicated on the understanding that people want to have a social home they can stay in, in a way that's not about maximizing any monetary calculus.

But it'd be awfully weird for people who claim to think that $250 per year in tuition increases paid for three years will drive people away from university education in droves not to believe that differences of many thousands of dollars per year for a lifetime in taxes could have any effect on decisions about where to live. Incentives matter at the margins. Margins by definition aren't the story of the underlying stable base. But that doesn't mean they're small or unimportant. And what I'm trying to suggest here is that there's an incentive system that at the margins is likely to affect anglophones, francophones, and non-locals meaningfully differently.

Mokawi said...

Tremblay-Pépin's willing to bite the bullet, and while there's no evidence for what he says, neither is there any evidence that this effect is particularly strong. We're in speculative territory here. We have no idea about the impact.

Now, even if the impact isn't negligeable, I'm not sure the conclusion is warranted. Sure, the system promotes anglophone emigration, but getting francophones more litterate also makes them more mobile. Staying with speculation, tuition is more likely to influence francophone admissions, since they give much less value to university, so raising tuition might actually strenghten the effect you're describing.

John Protevi said...

Thank you, Jacob, I admit to missing the assumption that financial motivations operate only at the margins of an otherwise multi-motivational base in which affective considerations play a big role. You didn't say that in the main post, but then again, you can't start at ground zero in every post, and it's my unfamiliarity with your way of thinking that led me to miss that assumption. My bad.

D. Ghirlandaio said...

Does Jacob Levy assume that the only thing taxes pay for is education?
Jocelyn Maclure made that point, with no response. And then to refer to someone else as an "advocate-researcher" while offering damningly snide and faint praise for the object of study. "Montreal's a great place!" in spite of political backwardness and corruption. The same is said of China and the US. So what?
Levy's "value-free" claims are as laden as an over-loaded freighter.

Methodological and ideological individual were born as siamese twins joined at the cerebral cortex. Separate them and they both die.

Jacob T. Levy said...

John: OK, pax. It's true that i didn't say so explicitly; in my view "at the margins" is just how analysis of incentives works-- and since I'm a political scientist who studies ethnicity, culture, federalism and group membership, not an economist, I take the multi-motivational part, the basic affective core, for granted.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thought-provoking post. This whole news cycle resonates with both my personal life and my academic interests.

I just graduated from Uni. of San Diego Law School, and I am moving to Montreal in the Fall with my francophone wife. She completed her education in Quebec up through Year 1 of law school at UdeM. After her first year, we met while in the same study abroad program at Oxford. I'll skip the lovey-dovey stuff. Suffice to say, at the end of the summer, she decided to take time off of school and move with me to SD. Two years later, we're happily married and I've graduated.

My wife has found great work opportunities here, but she craves some degree beyond CEGEP. We are now moving back to Montreal so she can finish her law degree back at UdeM or McGill (waiting to hear back on her transfer app, fingers crossed). The sine qua non of our decision is the relative cost of school in Quebec compared to California. I wouldn’t dare draw any broad inferences from this anecdote, but I thought it was worth sharing. -Josh