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Student unrest: an international affair

by Archives March 16, 2005

If you were one of the several hundred people that turned out to vote in last Wednesday’s general assembly where Concordia University students decided to go on strike for one day, (Mar.16)- you heard a lot of talking.

When it comes to an issue like tuition, everyone sounds like an expert and seems to have a logical argument. Unless you’re really on the ball you don’t have a chance to verify the validity of their claims before yellow voting cards are flying into the air. The side’s capability to win your vote may very well have more to do with which side of the bed you got out of than your beliefs on the given issue.

One of the points hammered home during the assembly was that students in some European countries don’t pay tuition. That came in response to a claim by the government that Quebec students have it way better than the rest of Canadian students. Judging by the applause at Loyola, a lot of students liked the idea of free tuition. You would be crazy not to.

However, unless someone is willing to brave Scandinavia’s chilly climate, there isn’t much chance they will find an institution of higher learning that currently offers free tuition. The few institutions that do, may not continue such support a few years down the road. It is true that up until eight or nine years ago, free tuition was all the rage in European countries. Germany, Austria, Italy and Holland were all about the free tuition until Britain decided it was no longer capable of offering such assistance.

Britain’s average tuition fee is currently about $2,276 a year. Students there didn’t like the idea of such drastic tuition hikes either. Their government has continued to seek out ways to increase education costs and it has resulted in some of the largest protests in the country’s history.

It was only two months ago when the German high-court decided to allow individual federal states to start charging tuition fees. The original law was deemed by the high-court to be “unconstitutional” and a violation to the principle of equal opportunity. Bavaria and Hamburg are among the first states that will have tuition fees put into effect; they will cost in the neighbourhood of $650 (CAN) per semester.

One of Germany’s main reasons for changing the law was to prevent students from exceeding regular terms of study. In other words, they had a large contingent of students who were taking over six years to complete their degrees, a factor that ran the risk of causing overcrowding. That’s exactly what could happen at Concordia in the event of a prolonged strike — which thankfully is no longer a concern.

So what’s the point? Is the suggestion that Quebec’s current education dilemma be disregarded just because foreign governments are now clueing into the idea that student money could build more reputable institutions? No.

The point is that if today (Mar.16) you were one of the many who took to the streets in protest, make sure you know why you were out there. If it’s because Quebec has the lowest student employment rate in Canada and not everyone can get a job to contribute to their own education, that’s fine. If it’s because you feel the government didn’t give student enough warning in advance, and many could have been better prepared, that’s good too. If you truly believe, deep down in your gut, that Quebec can maintain a strong education system without converting bursaries or raising tuition, then by all means make your voice heard. But if you’re just doing it because someone told you that Swedish kids don’t pay a cent in tuition fees, and you like the sound of free schooling, then take a step back. I doubt either of us is truly an expert on the subject, but we certainly owe it to ourselves to be informed.

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