Marchers brave cold in second week of protest

Infuriated by tuition fee increases in the past year, Quebec students rallied in Montreal’s streets last Thursday to denounce the Liberal government’s failure to maintain the 13-year tuition freeze. Marching under the slogan, “Stop the tuition hike! March for Education!” approximately 750 demonstrators from the United Students of Québec Coalition (USQC), an ad hoc coalition of student associations across Quebec, urged students to walk out of classes and demand the provincial government to reinstate the tuition freeze lifted by the Liberal government in June.

Infuriated by tuition fee increases in the past year, Quebec students rallied in Montreal’s streets last Thursday to denounce the Liberal government’s failure to maintain the 13-year tuition freeze.
Marching under the slogan, “Stop the tuition hike! March for Education!” approximately 750 demonstrators from the United Students of Québec Coalition (USQC), an ad hoc coalition of student associations across Quebec, urged students to walk out of classes and demand the provincial government to reinstate the tuition freeze lifted by the Liberal government in June.
Jean-Patrick Brady, president of FEUQ (Quebec Federation of University Students) one of the student lobby groups facilitating the event, said lifting the tuition freeze improves nothing. “The Charest government is trying to impose an end to the financial autonomy of universities. We refuse to allow this debacle to continue,” said Brady.
Students are already paying $50 more this semester and they can expect university fees to rise $100 a year for the next five years. Quebec student fees average $1,600, which is far below the national average of $4,800. Out-of-province and international student fees are set to rise even more.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest has called this a “reasonable increase,” that is the $100 million that will be added to university budgets, a significantly smaller amount when compared to the $1 billion his government promised to spend on post-secondary education.
“This is what students wanted to show today,” said Angelica Novoa, president of the Concordia Student Union. “The young people present on the street as well as all the ones we represent cannot accept to carry this burden.”
The USQC said the increase in tuition fees will barely bring in $75 million over the next five years to Quebec universities, which suffer from a funding deficit of $400 million. The coalition also claims that many students will see their debt burden rise by 30 per cent during this period. The government has said they would top up student financial aid programs to offset the rise in tuition.
“They have some nerve,” said Concordia student Jeanne Dubois. “So I borrow more and build up more debt over two more years and then start paying it? It’s like a buy now and pay later plan you find at major department stores.” Dubois, who works part-time as a waitress feels fortunate to live and study in Quebec. “Education should not be all about how much money the government can make.”
Dubois lives alone and cannot imagine paying an extra $2 a day, which is what a $100 per year increase breakdowns to. “My goodness I stretch things to their limit right now. Just leave the freeze.”
Michel Lafayette, father of two graduates from Concordia, said his daughters have accumulated $62,000 in debt for their education.
He said that while they have found employment, their monthly payments are high. “I provided for their basic needs while they studied and I can only imagine how much difficult it would have been for them if they also had to work and pay rent,” said Lafayette. “And now these fees are on the rise?”
A new national poll on public attitude toward tuition fees found they are not alone in their concern. Over 80 per cent of Canadians believe university fees should be lowered or frozen.
The Harris-Decima poll jointly sponsored by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students also found that 55 per cent said that the single most important step government should take with respect to education is lowering tuition.
“Canadians have made it loud and clear that the costs of a university and college education are far too high,” said Greg Allain, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. “Now it’s time for governments to listen.”

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