Student groups ready to fight gv’t on tuition

Student unions from across Quebec are telling the Charest government that if it doesn’t back down from increasing tuition by $325 a year between 2012 and 2017, it should get ready for a showdown with students.

The widely expected increase was included in the Quebec budget tabled on March 17 by finance minister Raymond Bachand. It represents a 75 per cent increase in tuition fees and will see the cost of university climb to $3,793 a year by 2017, still lower than the national average. According to Bachand, additional public funding, including more money from students, will give universities an extra $850 million by 2017. A third of the tuition increases, representing about $118 million, will go toward student financial aid.

But student groups are contesting Bachand’s argument that students must do their part in closing the funding gap between Quebec universities and its counterparts in the rest of the country. The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec says asking for an additional $325 a year means more students will be forced to reject post-secondary education.

“Asking students to pay more means students will have to work more, which will harm their studies, and also means that many students will be forced to leave school altogether,” said FEUQ president Louis-Philippe Savoie. “Tuition increases are not the way to go to give more funding to universities. Instead, we should be prioritizing public funding, showing that it is beneficial for the state to invest in its universities because these institutions are producing the state’s future.”

In a statement on its website, the Concordia Student Union also denounced the government for making universities even more inaccessible. CSU president Heather Lucas was equally upset with the fact that while the government is asking students to pay more, it is still allowing universities to pay its high-ranking officials exorbitant salaries and, in Concordia’s case, giving its ousted presidents severance packages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“While we understand that the pay of a high-ranking university official needs to be competitive in order to attract people to come to Concordia, it is still absolutely absurd how much money they make in salaries,” she said. “These university officials are making more than some of the world leaders of today which is troubling when students are struggling to pay off their tuition debt.”

Despite the government’s decision to up tuition, all student groups plan to continue mobilizing their membership to push for accessible education. For example the FEUQ is planning on rallying students to protest at the Liberal Party’s April 3 meeting in Boucherville. Lucas said that the CSU will also mobilize students and “inform students about this increase and how they will start to feel it very soon.”

However, student organizations still feel that events such as Concordia’s WHALE and the massive March 12 protest against tuition increases and privatization were worth it.

“Events like the WHALE make people aware of the issue and of alternatives to tuition increases, and that there is opposition to them,” said Free Education Montreal’s Robert Sonin. “The government, big business and university administrators present the increases as a fact of life – that is a lie. They are a policy decision, and one that is out of line with the rest of the world.”

Other university-related measures outlined in the budget include an incentive for the private sector to donate more to universities, as well as slightly lowering the parental contribution to education.

On the opposing side of the tuition debate, universities said they were generally pleased with the Charest government’s tuition increases, with Concordia spokeswoman Chris Mota describing the decision as “encouraging.”

“This is a major commitment because it is a six-year plan and allows universities to better plan long-term and better budget,” she said. “All universities in CREPUQ have said that all stakeholders, including students, need to pay.”

The Conférence des recteurs et principaux des universités du Québec, which had originally called on the government in December to increase tuition by $500 a year over three years, issued a statement saying that government’s increase will allow universities to better contribute to the development of Quebec society.

In the direct aftermath of the tabling of the budget, students had already begun to get vocal. Approximately 100 protesters gathered outside the Hilton Bonaventure in Montreal on March 18 as minister Bachand promoted his budget inside to the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.

The organization, whose board of directors includes former Concordia president Judith Woodsworth, had asked the government to increase tuition by $1000 a year over three years. As Bachand spoke inside the hotel, the protesters chanted various slogans, reminding the minister that presently in Quebec, more than 60 per cent of students carry an average debt of $14,000, now set to increase in sync with the tuition.


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