Shutting down the CEGEP system… really?

Shutting down the CEGEP system… really?

By Farnell Morisset

A vital part of our education system.

A vital part of our education system.

During the latest Québec Liberal leadership debate, Pierre Moreau revived a debate that I’d honestly thought was long dead by calling into question the pertinence of our CEGEP system.  Now I’m all for calling the existence of institutions into question – even if only to reconfirm that we still need these institutions – but what led my palm straight towards my face was M. Moreau’s implication that the CEGEP system was responsible for our province’s slightly lower (4%) university education rate.

I can’t help but think that while his Liberal cohorts were arguing last fall that lower quality education would lead to “rebate” diplomas of little actual value, M. Moreau was not listening to his side of the aisle.  This argument is based on the idea that education has inherently more value if it comes with a university diploma, and that therefore any education which comes from another source is less valuable – even if it provides the same skills and knowledge.

This kind of smoke-and-mirrors approach to higher education is troubling, as it focuses not on improving the level of education of the Québécois, but rather only to improve our statistical appearance of education.  I certainly understand this temptation.  Politicians, after all, measure quality of life by statistical methods.  When seeking election it’s handy to have a plan for lower unemployment, better wages, improved health, and higher approval ratings – that doesn’t mean forced labour camps, skyrocketing inflation, killing the sick, and silencing dissidents are a good idea.  By focusing on the statistics of education and not the education itself, this throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Québec’s CEGEP system is, I feel, one of our fundamental strengths as a society.  Those two or three years of general education provide a cultural and intellectual background that is not afforded most other university graduates in North America.  That intermediary step between high school, when one has to ask for permission to go to the bathroom, and university, where one is totally free to do as they wish – is crucial to the development of mature young professionals.

That’s not something that easily figures in to any statistical consideration or economic benefit, but to our society’s quality of life is without a doubt better for it.  Where else in North America are philosophy, literature, art, and physical health education mandatory before one can even begin their professional career path?  How can this not be beneficial to society as a whole?

Yes, I concede it is quite likely that some CEGEP students do not attend university because they consider their CEGEP studies sufficient for their careers.  This should be seen as a testament to the effectiveness of the CEGEP system to properly prepare citizens for fulfilling careers and lives.  The rest of the world may measure education in terms of university attendance, that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice our education options – and the quality of life associated to it – to achieve a higher test score.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are the author’s, and are not necessarily shared by the staff and owners of


About the author:

SimonFarnell-Morisset_BiogFarnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

Categories: News

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.


  1. davender
    davender 15 January, 2013, 22:29

    Farnell – I must admit my experience of one year of CEGEP was in the Stone Age (1979) and most of that year was wiped out by a student strike (sound familiar?)…which convinced me to get out of the province as fast as possible for my university education. Having been back “home” for eight years and not seen much change in the system, I’m not convinced that CEGEP is properly placed. I see your point about having an option for post-secondary education other than university, and CEGEP is the right place for a professional (technical) track. I also agree with something I heard about moving continuing ed from the high school to the CEGEPs. However, I’m skeptical about making those on the university track go through a two-year CEGEP then university, making Quebec out of sync with the other provinces for not much more added value. CEGEPs also have problems at the student government level that haven’t gone away in 30 years. But then, we like doing things differently here, n’est-ce pas?

    • Farnell Morisset
      Farnell Morisset 15 January, 2013, 22:37

      Oh yes, we do love doing things differently.

      The university track is precisely where I think CEGEP has the most value. Like I said, it’s a great benefit to society as a whole that its university-educated professionals all have a very solid social and cultural basis in arts, philosophy, literature, and basic health. Those two years in CEGEP provide profound and positive cultural and social foundations that would otherwise be lost on someone heading straight into their specialisation. It’s the difference between a drone and a well-rounded citizen.

      As for those student government problems, I figure they’re a necessary problem. Self-affirmation is an inherently chaotic process, but I greatly prefer the antics of CEGEP student government over a society of drones.

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