universities (ii)

McGill is raising the tuition of their MBA program to $30 000; an order of magnitude increase. Little surprise that Québec’s government is incensed, nor that the Globe and Mail editorial board is in favour. From the Globe’s argument:

McGill says the actual cost of running its program is $22,000 a year, of which tuition and government subsidies pay $12,000; other school programs have to subsidize the remaining $10,000. “We think that’s backwards,” says Peter Todd, the dean of Desautels. The MBA students have five years of work experience when they begin, and within a year or two double their salary, on average, and earn over $100,000. Other school programs shouldn’t have to subsidize this elite one.

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne says the province will claw back the extra money if McGill goes ahead. “They [McGill] say that charging $30,000 will let them increase the quality of their teaching and compete with other universities in Canada, the United States and others in the world. I cannot accept that argument because we have excellent schools.” Saying they’re excellent doesn’t necessarily make it so. It is true that McGill is 95th on the Financial Times list of the world’s top 100 business schools philosophy departments. But five other Canadian universities are ahead. All five charge vastly more. And no other Quebec business school philosophy department is in the top 100. “Our position has eroded because we haven’t been able to invest,” Mr. Todd says of McGill. “We’re arguably one of the best 25 universities in the world. We say it should have one of the best 25 MBA schools philosophy departments in the world. Quebec should want that and I think Quebec does want it.”

These all-too-cute editing nonetheless provides fodder for some head-scratching about a change which amounts to a complete refutation of the relationship the department has with society, and with the rest of the University. Why does it cost so much to educate these people, when there are no lab materials, no medical supplies, nor specialized software needed to educate them? Why should the prestige of this particular department be just as high as the university’s overall reputation, and not some other department? Why should we care what the Financial Times has to say about the work done in this department?

More importantly, if this program is essentially a training program for tomorrow’s corporate elite, then why is it offered by a university at all? The purely practical answer is that students willing to pay an $8000 premium on the delivery costs of the program provde a convenient cashcow for an institution constantly facing fiscal drought. To that, a modest proposal: the school could make even more money by simply selling degrees, ‘recognizing the excellence’ of those already successful in the business field, in return for a hefty fee – disposing of the need for a library, professors, or administrative staff.

The Globe’s averaging of salaries hide the students who would have otherwise done something thoughtful, something innovative, something revolutionary with the education they now received. Little time for that with a massive debtload to pay off. In his recent book on universities, Ian Angus argues that business has replaced the clergy in the tacked-on, gaudy addition housing the professional-school wing of the universities. Yet, paradoxically, even the divinity schools were never concerned only with turning out disciples willing to ply their trade in conditions of blind faith; even they saw doubt at the core of what they did. Here, then, we have a clear answer to one of those angels-on-a-pinhead questions philosophers are ever wrestling with: what is the price of professional certainty? It is $30 000 a head.