The operating subsidy granted by Québec to universities depends on student enrollment and budget appropriations allocated to universities.

If enrollment decreases, the grant decreases. If budget appropriations increase, the grant increases.

We present UQAM’s enrollment and grant histories in Figures 1a and 1b. Since 2015, UQAM has suffered a 16% drop in enrollment, which translates into an equivalent drop in tuition fees. Consequently, there is a decrease associated with the operating grant.

Technical provisions stagger and spread this reduction over time, but since 2017, its subsidy has decreased by 9% (in constant dollars). This decrease is partially mitigated by the contribution of new funds that Quebec devotes to universities.

As long as the institution does not resume enrollment and the grant rules remain the same, this trend will not change.

The labor shortage is affecting university enrolment. They tend to fall when the unemployment rate is low (and vice versa). The unemployment rate is barely above its historical low (4.2% in March 2023) and UQAM is more sensitive than other establishments to these variations.

UQAM is then doubly affected: the direct drop in enrollment, but also the displacement of enrollment of students who had UQAM as a second choice to other institutions that also face less demand.

Another plausible hypothesis may affect recent declines in enrollment. The new incentive scholarship program from the Government of Quebec targets sectors deemed to have a labor shortage through disciplines that are less present at UQAM. If these scholarships increase enrollment in the targeted programs, then they would cause a substitution of enrollment to other institutions.

Finally, the opening of an adjacent HEC Montréal campus, which is planned for this year, could accentuate the drop in enrolment. Other systematic differences between establishments, which have changed little in recent years, seem to us to be unconvincing in explaining variations in staff numbers.

There is talk of UQAM being disadvantaged by provincial grant policies that would favor institutions with so-called “paying” disciplines for grant purposes. These assertions deserve nuance.

To illustrate the impact, we have created a “UQAM 2.0” comprising a faculty of medicine equivalent to that of Université Laval and a faculty of engineering equivalent to the École de technologie supérieure. This UQAM 2.0 then took on a size, in terms of enrollment, between McGill University and Laval University. We then grant it funding under the grant rules of the last 20 years and compare it to other institutions. Figure 2a presents the evolution of the operating grant while Figure 2b shows the grant per student.

Note that UQAM 2.0 competes with the University of Montreal, the champion in terms of grants received. But beware of mirages: this UQAM 2.0 would also have to finance the expenses of two expensive new faculties!

Moreover, the addition of these faculties is sufficient to explain the difference in operating grant with the most advantaged (the University of Montreal), meaning that the performance of UQAM in receiving funds in other disciplines is equal or higher than other establishments.

Finally, it is a French-speaking university that sits on the list of operating grants received. In short, the idea that UQAM is fundamentally disadvantaged seems exaggerated to us.

It should be remembered, however, that university operating grants do not constitute the full funding of institutions. In a second text, we will also qualify the idea that a linguistic division is a discriminating factor for universities. What should be remembered here is that the labor market is an important factor in explaining the state of university enrolments.