McGill University and Concordia University are suing the Quebec government over its decision to hike tuition for out-of-province students by about 30 per cent, calling for the increases to be suspended.

In separate applications for judicial review filed in Quebec Superior Court on Friday, the two Montreal universities argue the government's decision constitutes discrimination under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that the hikes have damaged the schools' reputations. 

The lawsuits are also challenging the government's new funding model for international students, under which the schools will be charged $20,000 for every foreign student admitted, with the money going to French-language universities.

"We are undertaking this legal action because we believe that these measures are illegal and if upheld, will threaten McGill’s mission, its place as one of the world’s top universities and its vital role in Quebec," Deep Saini, McGill president and vice-chancellor, said in a statement.

Students are thinking twice about coming to Quebec and recruiters are hearing that the tuition changes make prospective students feel unwelcome in the province," Saini said. "I find this particularly distressing, considering how warm and hospitable I have found Quebec to be, and how much employers want and need these highly talented young people."

Tuition is set to rise to roughly $12,000 from about $9,000 for out-of-province students next fall, except for Quebec's only other English university — Bishop's — which was exempted because it is outside Montreal. The Quebec government has defended the tuition hikes, saying that they were imposed, in part, because there are too many people who speak English in Montreal.

Simon Savignac, a spokesman for Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry, said Friday that her office would not comment further given the matter is before the courts.

McGill and Concordia make similar arguments in their respective lawsuits: the Quebec government failed to consider Canadian and Quebec Charter rights as well as administrative law when making changes to tuition policies. The tuition fee hike for out-of-province students, the universities claim, disproportionately impacts the anglophone institutions, which receive the majority of students from outside Quebec. 

The changes imposed by the province also require that 80 per cent of out-of-province students at all three English-language universities graduate with an intermediate knowledge of spoken French by the 2025-26 academic year. The universities are not challenging those targets.

Both Concordia and McGill have said they’ve recorded significant drops in applications since Quebec announced the tuition hike in October and have warned the changes could trigger a steep drop in enrolment and devastate their finances.

Originally, the government threatened to nearly double tuition to $17,000 from $8,992, but later reduced the increase to $3,000.

Concordia President Graham Carr said in a letter to the Concordia community on Friday that the university was left with no choice but to sue.

"Concordia and our anglophone university partners tried to engage with the government in good faith on the tuition issue throughout the fall," Carr said. "Although the government reduced its initial proposed tuition increase for out-of-province students, it never worked with us in any substantive way to hear, let alone address, our wide-ranging concerns."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2024.