Home CommentaryOpinions It’s time to think beyond Nov. 10

It’s time to think beyond Nov. 10

by The Concordian November 15, 2011

As rain and students flooded the streets of Montreal during last Thursday’s tuition protest, the deluge felt all too familiar. The tens of thousands of students protesting the increase in tuition fees over the next five years are a familiar sight for Quebecers, with two strikes in the past fifteen years alone. At the time of this writing, the results of the day-long protest remain to be seen, but no matter what the outcome the question will arise: what more can be done?
Quebec students will be faced with the question of what to do next if the protests fail and the Charest government moves ahead with its annual $325 increase in tuition until 2017. A victory means a few years of respite until the next assault, as students have learned from the supposed successes of 2005’s student strike.
So what can be done? No matter what, those attending university and college in Quebec will still pay some of the lowest tuition rates in Canada, leaving them in an important position. Quebec residents paid an average of $2,300 in 2009-2010 for an undergraduate degree, while in Ontario that number was closer to $5,985. Students in Quebec reflect a common desire of students across the country: the need for post-secondary education to be economically viable for all, especially in such a poor job market.
There can be little doubt that the concern about rising tuition rates voiced by Quebec students is not limited to those in Quebec. Across North America the ever-growing cost of higher education has become an increasingly urgent issue in a fragile economy.
A recent article in Job Postings magazine detailed how tuition in Canada has risen at approximately twice the rate of inflation over the past twenty years, translating to a fourfold rise since 1991. According to Statistics Canada, the national average tuition fees for the 2010-2011 school year are four per cent higher than in 2009-2010, which in turn saw a three percent rise from 2008-2009.
Instead of students focusing exclusively on their own struggles, whether in Quebec, Nova Scotia or Ontario (where tuition costs are Canada’s highest), there needs to be co-ordination on a national level. To see the widespread, concrete reforms Canadian students want, it must be turned into a national concern that cannot be ignored. A single week of nation-wide demonstrations or strikes could achieve far more than the scattered tuition fights being waged in individual provinces with varying degrees of success.
Such a proposal isn’t new. The National Union of Students (which later became the Canadian Federation of Students) organized nation-wide protests in the fall of 1977. The famous May 1968 student protests in Paris evolved into a France-wide social movement which encompassed strikes in every area of society.
In a period of renewed public demonstration inspired by the Arab Spring, a nation-wide student strike could be easily accomplished with modern technology. Even if the effects of such a strike fell short of the success of May 1968, the demands of all Canadian students would be taken far more seriously than scattered provincial demonstrations. By eschewing the conventional means of demonstration with centralized leaders and groups, the federal government would have no choice but answer to the millions of students unwilling to pay such a heavy price.
Spearheaded by those in Quebec, a nation-wide movement against the ever-rising costs of post-secondary education would benefit not only current students but future generations as well. Such protests could potentially call on high school students to take part too, mobilizing a huge portion of the population who will inevitably bear the burden of a costly education. Other tactics could include a boycott of student debt payments or refusal to pay interest.
Without a national movement that would push all provinces toward tuition reform, Quebec students can count on continually fighting the same battles again and again. While temporary freezes may seem like a victory, most are merely reprieves until provincial governments again set their sights on raising tuition costs, as Premier Jean Charest so deftly demonstrated this year.
Quebec students are in a unique position to mobilize students across Canada. Unless drastic action is taken soon, the banners will be out in another six years, protesting the next planned tuition hike.

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