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Backed by a new report on campus privatization, CUPE is calling on Quebec’s auditor general to investigate university P3s.

The study, produced by the Institut de recherche en économie contemporaine (IREC), found the cost of a P3 development on Université du Québec à Rimouski’s (UQAR) Lévis campus has risen from $25 million to $80.5 million. The IREC study raises other issues, revealing that at least two contracts for the campus – totaling $500,000 – were awarded without tender on the sole recommendation of the private developer, Groupe AMT.

Carole Neill, chair of CUPE’s CPSU (Conseil provincial du secteur universitaire), is concerned. “The entire university network has been shaken by the Université du Québec à Montréal’s real estate difficulties. Under these circumstances, we feel the Auditor General of Quebec should examine the recent P3s in detail, as he did at UQAM. Let’s not wait until we wake up to a catastrophe. We fully intend to send the auditor general the IRÉC study,”  said Neill, as she kicked off a two-day symposium on campus P3s.

The development of the Lévis campus may not be a unique case. In September 2008, Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) undertook the construction of its center in Saint-Jérôme. Like the P3 in Lévis, the UQO development north of Montreal was awarded to the same developer, Groupe commercial AMT.

“We are very worried. The university world is currently in crisis,” says Neill. “Competition for clients is more intense than ever before.”

“The per-student funding formula, the intense competition for ‘clients’—that’s what we call students now—combined with lack of funding have university resources spread out erratically in over 80 service points across Quebec.”

She adds that it is “quite ironic that, for example, UQAR has as many students in the Quebec City suburb of Lévis as it does in Rimouski. Or that Université de Sherbrooke has a campus in Longueuil, UQO has one in Saint-Jérôme, and that three universities offer courses in Saint-Georges-de-Beauce.”

Neill believes that universities are turning to P3s to increase their clientele and, therefore, their funding. “But they’re deluding themselves,” she says. “Universities are avoiding the real issue.”