Although the fall semester is just starting on most university campuses, the student movement to combat tuition hikes is already in full swing.
On Aug. 21, the FÃ©dÃ©ration Ã©tudiante universitaire du QuÃ©bec launched their campaign in response to the $1,625 per year tuition increase set in the 2012-2017 provincial budget. The FEUQ, a province-wide organization of which the Concordia Student Union is a member, is calling all post-secondary students to mobilize for a freeze in tuition fees.
“We’re planning a lot of action this fall, notably rallies and demonstrations,” said FEUQ president Martine Desjardins. “Our objective is to have the Charest government back down on this issue. We’ve seen them do it on the shale gas issue, so they can go back on this too.”
The FEUQ’s fall campaign “1,625$ Ã‡a ne passe pas” ($1,625, that doesn’t pass), launched in partnership with the FÃ©dÃ©ration Ã©tudiante collÃ©giale du QuÃ©bec, will operate on both the local and national level in a lead up to their Nov. 10 demonstration in Montreal.
According to CSU VP External Chad Walcott, the student union is prepared to do their part.
“We will be conducting an informational campaign to inform students of the impacts of the proposed tuition increase, as well as to dispel many of the misconceptions the government has been fostering regarding the tuition fee hikes,” he said.
While tuition fees were frozen in 1997, mandatory institution fees, or the ancillary fees that universities charge, continued to increase annually. In 2005, the Liberal party, under the auspices of premier Jean Charest, announced a 30 per cent increase in tuition between 2007 and 2012, raising the cost of a 90-credit undergraduate degree to roughly $8,700. The last budget, introduced in March, plans for a 75 per cent increase over the next five years, a hike students are finding hard to stomach.
Concordia also has many out-of-province and international students who chose to study here because of affordable tuition, according to Walcott. An increase in Quebec’s fees will be felt across the board and it is these students that may be hit the hardest, he said.
In the next couple of months, FEUQ and FECQ executives will be visiting campuses throughout the province, distributing educational booklets about the impact of tuition hikes, as well as planning events with student associations to create buzz around the campaign and demonstration in November.
The publications and material found on the FEUQ’s campaign website and Facebook group, such as their guide to the tuition increase, answers to counter-arguments, background information on tuition hikes and research on the impact of the hikes raise issues of student indebtedness and intergenerational equity related to affordable education.
They also question financial management in post-secondary institutions, stating examples such as the departure of Judith Woodsworth and the real-estate loan to interim president Frederick Lowy as scandals that have indirectly cost over $1 million to university students.
Part of the FEUQ’s long-term strategy includes collaborating with labour unions and not-for-profit groups such as Free Education Montreal to promote accessible education. They will also be targeting Liberal ridings that won by less than 1,000 votes in preparation for the next elections.
A united front
The FEUQ regroups 15 university associations, and plans on working closely with the FECQ’s 23 CEGEP associations, l’ASSÃ‰ – l’Association pour une SolidaritÃ© Syndicale Ã‰tudiante – that represents 45,000 students and Free Education Montreal. Despite having different mandates, research projects and concerns, Desjardins is calling for a united front across campuses.
“Students need to be aware that there is a bigger picture than their own studies and that we need to fight for each other’s rights,” she said. “We are part of a generation that doesn’t have a demographic impact, so we need to act together. We are young people with big dreams, but we’ll have nothing to put our hands on if we don’t use the power of groups.”
Concordia student and Free Education Montreal member RaÃ¹l Chacon believes collaborative action is possible.
“Virtually every democratic student group is on the same page,” he said. “We all differ on tactics and details, allowing for an important diversity, and everyone is cooperating to achieve our one overriding goal: no tuition increases.”
There also seems to be solidarity across French and English campuses, something Desjardins feels has grown in the student movement since 2007.
“We are working on translating all of our material, because they are a part of our campaign and they are enthusiastic – English universities are concerned about tuition hikes too,” he pointed out.
Walcott agrees Concordia has the potential to take its place within the student movement, but thinks there is a little bit of catching up to do with regard to the knowledge students have of what the student movement has done, and where it is going.