Home CommentaryOpinions Editorial – Do you think the government really cares?

Editorial – Do you think the government really cares?

by The Concordian November 15, 2011
The government doesn’t seem to give a damn about increasing tuition, at least not at the moment. However, students should not take this as a sign that it’s time to head back to class and pretend all is well.
Tens of thousands of students (estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000) took to the streets of Montreal last week to join their colleagues from across the province in a massive strike against the Charest government, denouncing its imminent tuition increases as a threat to the accessibility of post-secondary education.
There is no doubt, at least among student leaders and many other unions, including the long-suffering MUNACA at McGill, that these tuition increases are not the way to go to better the future of Quebec. The provincial government, on the other hand, continues to ride the wave that is going against popular demand by maintaining its proposed increases of $325 a year between 2012 and 2017.
Despite the Nov. 10th cheers, banners, and even a fire extinguisher-wielding protester on the McGill campus, the government refuses to budge. But this only means that students need to push harder. The government is counting on students to be complacent, but students are smarter than that.
Student unions across the province are already talking about a possible indefinite strike to start next January, similar to the massive general strike in 2005 that saw, during certain peak periods, over 200,000 students take to the streets after the Charest government slashed funding to the loans and bursaries program.
Students should contemplate a potential general strike very carefully. Getting the message out there and encouraging university and CEGEP students to take to the streets should also be given consideration by student unions and other associations. Although it certainly looked great on paper in early November that “18,000 arts and science students” (members of Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations) had voted to strike on Nov. 10, only a fraction of those students actually marched to Charest’s Montreal office.
Many students remained behind because their professors, despite being encouraged by provost David Graham to grant academic amnesty, refused to push exams or other assignments to a later date. Some students undoubtedly stayed in because it was raining. But many others just didn’t care.
This sense of apathy is nothing new. It’s not new at Concordia, and it’s not new at any other university throughout the country. But it’s time that all students realized that tuition increases affect all of them. As Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec put it, the tuition hike is now a “societal issue.”
So what can be done to solve this issue? A strike didn’t do much, but then again it only lasted a day. The 2005 general strike brought about some form of compromise, so maybe that could be tried again in the hopes of achieving similar results.
But other alternatives should also be considered. Some student leaders and union officials have proposed that students protest the tuition hike by not paying their tuition fees. Others have said students should just refuse to pay their student loans.
Neither of these options seem particularly pleasing. Just imagine what happens when you don’t pay your thousands of dollars in tuition on time: late fees start to accumulate, and eventually you could get booted out of university. But while conjuring up this image in your head, think about what would happen if all 30,000 undergraduate students at Concordia suddenly stopped paying their tuition fees. Will the university kick all of them out? If they do, who will be left to teach? A refusal to pay tuition on a mass scale is probably not the be-all, end-all solution to getting the government to negotiate tuition fees, but it’s an option that shouldn’t be completely ruled out either.
It’s important to note that despite the government remaining firm in its decision to increase tuition, the Nov. 10 strike was still not conducted in vain. The massive protest proved that students are furious at the way they have been treated, and certainly helped dispel that age-old stereotype that students “just don’t care” about anything.
The perseverance that students from Concordia, McGill, UQAM, UdeM and from so many other universities and CEGEPs showed on Nov. 10 should be remembered fondly by those who took part in the protest, as well as by those who watched from the sidelines, be it from the sidewalks or on television.
But this perseverance should not be stowed away as a fragment of history never to be repeated. Rather, this perseverance should be nurtured over the coming months, as it will be necessary in this tireless fight against tuition increases, which is far from over. In fact, it’s just getting started.

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