The means to an end

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

Quebec’s long-awaited summit on higher education came to a largely inconclusive end last Tuesday as students returned to flooding the streets in protest.

The two-day conference, intended to address unresolved and lingering issues from the student movement last spring, left a bitter taste in many student leaders’ mouths.

The Parti Québécois proposed an indexation of tuition fees by roughly three per cent annually for an indefinite amount of years much to the outrage of Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec President Martine Desjardins.

The indexation, compared to former Premier Jean Charest’s proposal of $325 per year over a five-year period, hit a sore point for both university rectors and student leaders. Those governing universities feel it will only delve Quebec post-secondary education deeper into financial despair, while Desjardins cried foul on not providing accessible education.

“I’m telling you there will be an impact,” said Desjardins, who called the proposal “disappointing.”

However, Premier Pauline Marois simply stated that her hands are tied and that “a decision had to be made,” so she made one.

A new council

The summit, while still contentious in its final outcome, did shed some light on other issues concerning university governance and financing.

A formal council will be created to supervise and review the governance and financial management of universities. Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne promised the Conseil national des universitiés would improve the efficiency of the universities while remaining independent and largely for consultation. However, details remain under wraps for now.

Investments and cuts

The provincial government also announced several investments including additional positions for staff. Additional employment will involve an extra 1,000 support staff, 2,000 teaching assistants and 1,000 professors.

Starting in 2014, Marois also promised that the provincial government would pump $1.7 billion into universities over seven years. The PQ stated that approximately $15 million would be invested into special projects between universities and CEGEPs.

However, universities will still suffer a loss of $250 million in funding cuts for the next two years — a decision that has become a source of stress for rectors who say Quebec’s institutions are already underfunded, overwhelmed and strapped for the future.

What’s next for Concordia?

According to a statement released by university president Alan Shepard, a main concern for Concordia is the slash to university funding over the next year including a shortfall of $26.4 million. Shepard emphasized that the cut put the university in a tight spot and forced administration to “make some difficult decisions.”

In an interview with The Concordian, Shepard said that what concerns him the most is ensuring that Concordia remains competitive and does not become a second-tier university despite the budget cuts.

“We want to provide a nationally competitive education,” said Shepard. “This can’t be done on the cheap.”

Shepard said that a two-day summit led him to a “complex reaction” because it was so intense. While Shepard said he was happy with some aspects of the summit, he added that two days doesn’t provide enough time to discuss the policy of higher education in Quebec.

“You can’t expect to get to the heart of the matter,” said Shepard. “No one walked away feeling like they won the lottery.”

Shepard added that while he believed the summit was well organized, there is still a much larger discussion to be had and that a plethora of issues were not addressed including e-learning and attracting older students who want to reshape their skills.


People take to the streets again

Photo by Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft

Following the end of the education summit, over 10,000 protesters led the way through downtown Montreal last Tuesday in the largest protest since last summer.

The protest was organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante in response to the exclusion of any discussion about free education at the education summit and the provincial government’s subsequent proposal to index university tuition fees. While it was largely peaceful, the protest was eventually broken up by police following incidents of snow, rocks, eggs and glass being thrown at police and their horses.

Premier Pauline Marois declared at the end of the two-day conference that the civil unrest of last spring was over but nonetheless thousands marched through downtown Montreal for hours shortly afterwards.

The demonstration officially began at 2 p.m. at Victoria Square, the former location of Occupy Montreal, opening with speeches and rallying cries before proceeding slowly but peacefully through the downtown core. The protest was deemed illegal almost immediately because an itinerary was not provided, violating a Montreal bylaw. Some protesters repeatedly pelted Service de police de la Ville de Montréal officers with snowballs whenever they approached, in some cases causing them to retreat.

By the time protesters reached Berri St. police had formed barriers and fired stun grenades to break up the protest. After charging the crowd, police followed protesters down Berri where they divided the demonstrators and attempted to disperse the crowd.Tear gas and stun grenades were used at certain points against protesters, as was a weapon the SPVM identified as a 40mm gun which fired green paint. The SPVM declined to elaborate on the purpose of the green paint saying that they cannot discuss strategies.

After being divided repeatedly by police lines and charges, the protest finally came to an end not far from the Berri-UQAM metro station around 5 p.m., with individuals still lingering and small contingents roaming nearby streets.

The SPVM confirmed 13 arrests once the protest was over for reasons including damaging police cars, attacking police officers and illegal assembly. According to the SPVM two individuals were also found to be carrying molotov cocktails.

Benjamin Prunty, a councillor for the Concordia Student Union who attended the protest, explained he was pleased with the turnout and with the message they sent, but was critical of the actions of the police.

“I am a peaceful person, and I felt very much provoked. There were way too many riot police and they were way too close to us,” he said. “[The police] represent the use of force and the protesters represent discontentment. Discontentment should be allowed to express itself freely and loudly without the looming threat of being beaten back by batons or burning chemicals.”

Prunty also said that he hoped the goal of free education continued to be a part of the conversation going forward.

“I think that having free education, combined with a responsible free press, is one of the surest methods of equalizing all segments of our society,” he said. “We need to worry far less about the people on the top and far more about the people on the bottom, all the while bringing each side closer to the other within a framework of healthy, diverse, and inclusive dialogue.”

Another protest is planned for Tuesday night at 8 p.m. from Place Émilie-Gamelin, where more than 3,000 individuals have already confirmed their attendance.


An ideological divide

Photo by Catlin Spencer

The highly anticipated summit on higher education organized by the provincial government began Monday morning, where Premier Pauline Marois clarified that the two-day conference would “establish an open dialogue” on post-secondary learning but would likely not reach a solution.

Following a whirlwind provincial election, the Parti Québécois announced the summit in September in an effort to appease all sides in the student movement crisis that rocked Quebec for months last spring. The minority provincial government cancelled the tuition fee increase of $325 per year over five years, and later $245 over seven years, imposed by the Charest Liberals upon taking office, effectively freezing tuition for the time being.

The conference was initially pegged to resolve the issues at the core of an ideological impasse over higher education.

Heavily guarded by the Montreal police, guests had to pass through three checkpoints before entering Arsenal gallery on William St. in Griffintown.

Day one

During the first day, Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne offered three proposals in relation to post-secondary education: create a provincial council to oversee universities, a law that would provide a framework for universities and a plan to hold institutions accountable for financing and budgeting.

In a meeting that lasted over 12 hours, multiple issues were discussed: the development of post-secondary funding, research, quality of education and accessibility.

While various concerns were voiced by participants, the most contentious issue of the day was the issue of tuition.

The PQ announced later in the evening that they plan to index university tuition at approximately three per cent annually, meaning that tuition will rise by $70 per year leaving student representatives feeling deceived.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, said that indexation would “punish” students and send the wrong message. “I’m telling you there will be an impact,” said Desjardins.

However, Duchesne said that the province can simply no longer afford the same rates and that a freeze would force Quebec into a crisis.

Lowering the expectations

The summit has been the subject of backlash the last few weeks, with university rectors only receiving invitations 10 days before the start of the summit. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum of McGill University blasted the provincial government, citing disorganization and poor planning before calling the conference “a joke.”

Concordia University is waiting on the results of the provincial conference to know when the additional funding promised by the PQ is coming — something that was promised to the university in the wake of the tuition freeze.

Protests throughout the day

Peaceful protests marked the first day of the summit, with a small contingent gathering outside Arsenal gallery in the early morning during guest registration. Approximately 30 protesters passed through the streets of Griffintown calmly without ever accessing the highly guarded building.

Similarly, a gathering of 20 demonstrators including professors, students and civilians congregated on Notre-Dame St. to reiterate their position on accessible education. The protesters did not mobilize, choosing instead to read poetry and sing in support of students in front of the building.

In the afternoon more than 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Montreal, leaving from Cabot Square. The protest was promoted by the Association pour une solidarité syndicate étudiante, the student association that backed out of the conference since free education would not be part of the discussion.

“We feel sort of betrayed by the Parti Québécois,” said Concordia University student Serge Del Grosso. “They say they support the student movement and are against the hikes and then they say they will index it.”

Del Grosso went on to say that those present didn’t want tuition to rise and genuinely believe free education is a possibility.

Protesters headed south before arriving at the summit, where police officers from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal and provincial police guarded the building. There was no intervention before demonstrators resumed their march east toward the downtown core.

The protest, though declared as illegal from the start, was largely peaceful. The SPVM reported two arrests. Police claimed that projectiles were launched and flags from some downtown hotels were removed by student protesters.

By 6:30 p.m. protesters had made it to Ste-Catherine St. and McGill College St. but by 7 p.m. most of the protesters left after tear gas was deployed. Several demonstrators met at Parc Émilie-Gamelin heading east but dispersed close to Beaudry Metro station.


Earlier Monday, several buildings were vandalized with red paint including the offices of Duchesne and of former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin. The Ministry of Education building located on Fullum St. was also covered in red paint.

Vandals wrote in white outside the offices of the minister responsible for Montreal, Jean-François Lisée, and several windows were also broken.

No arrests have been made in relation to those incidents.

With files from Robin Della Corte and Matthew Guité.


Students voice opinions at town hall

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

The Concordia Student Union held a town hall meeting with guest speakers Monday night, about the much-anticipated education summit that will take place at the end of February.

The CSU wanted to facilitate an open conversation about four major themes that will be discussed at the summit next month, and what quality of education means to Concordia students.

“Now it’s an opportunity for students to voice their vision on universities,” said VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon of the CSU.

The four main topics that will be discussed at the summit are quality of education, accessibility of education, governance and finance, and research and contribution to society. These main themes were the main points on the agenda to discuss throughout the town hall meeting.

Lauzon stated in the meeting that he has decided to hold an online vote before the summit so that students can vote on different student perspectives and choose the views which best represent them. The website itself is not yet online.

Lauzon clarified that this meeting wasn’t just an information session, but to hear students’ opinions and to incorporate their ideas into what will be brought to the summit.

The floor was open, allowing students to ask questions or raise discussion points throughout the meeting.

“In my opinion, education should be accessible for everyone in Quebec,” Lauzon said.

The topic of having accessible education came up several times, in regards to the rights of students with disabilities, gender, race, age and financial state.

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec President Martine Desjardins was one of the guest speakers at the meeting. Desjardins discussed the pressure she is putting on the government with her concerns on tuition and the quality of education.

“We are not in favour for inflammation. We want the government to set back from their position and realize they can’t keep asking students to pay more and pay without a proper evaluation,” Desjardins said.

She went on to say that Concordia students aren’t represented enough through the Board of Governors, which she sees as a major issue.

Lauzon stated that for the next eight days he will be campaigning and open to hear student ideas on a range of topics.


Searching for a solution on education

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

One of the most anticipated promises from the Parti Québécois, the provincial summit on education, will be held next month to discuss future plans for Quebec’s governance and management for post-secondary education funds.

As a part of her agenda, Premier Pauline Marois abolished the proposed tuition fee increase of $1,778 over the next seven years imposed by the previous provincial government led by former Premier Jean Charest. Near the end of last year, Marois stated that it was time for discussion and an open debate on the subject of education in the province. The conference, to be held on Feb. 25 and 26, will not only examine the dispute on tuition, but other aspects of higher education and identify the main goals of the universities in Quebec. It will take into account the voices of university administrations, students and taxpayers in the province.

The provincial government has been accepting comments and questions electronically, through a website and a Facebook page created for the summit. Denis Comeau, a real-estate agent, says he remains skeptical on the contribution of opinions from taxpayers like himself despite the outreach from the PQ.

“The system is only as good as the people who use it and maintain it,” said Comeau.

He explained that when it comes down to the summit itself, a pressing issue is the quality of university education and some schools are “suffering” from being underfunded.

Due to Marois’ freeze on tuition, universities are short $32 million. In December, the provincial government slashed universities’ budgets by $124 million, with Concordia suffering a $13.2 million loss.

In an interview with The Concordian, University President Alan Shepard said that the best scenario which can come from the summit next month is having “clarity of funding, support for students, research funding, [and] renewed and refreshed commitment to the central role of universities in our society.”

Marois acknowledged that many will push for tuition increase, others for indexations and the rest for free tuition — a subject that many Quebec residents remain divided on.

“I do believe that they should not raise the tuition more, in fact, they should lower the tuition,” said TD Canada Trust financial sales representative Vita Carrara. “It is already very difficult for young adults to be able to afford today’s living expenses and have to pay for their own education.”

Karyna Bourgault, a dog groomer, said she believes that the relevance of the curriculum taught in the post-secondary environment should be reviewed. She feels that students shouldn’t have to pay more tuition because “accessible education will allow more opportunities.”

Members of the Liberal Party of Quebec, the official opposition of the PQ, believe the PQ is going into the summit with their minds already made up on the issue of tuition. If the freeze continues, some Liberals argue it will put Quebec universities in an $80 million shortfall.

“Students should pay more tuition, eventually. You can’t keep something like that frozen. I don’t agree with having to pay more, but yet, just like opus passes, people will be forced to pay more,” said Joe De Cicco, a customer service representative at Indigo Books and Music.“I don’t see any other way around it.”


What to watch out for this January and February

Following the volatile year that was 2012, the new year is bound to bring some interesting issues to the table in terms of higher education in Quebec and at Concordia as well. Here are some events and associations which students should remember to keep an eye on.

The education summit in February
The education summit promised by the Parti Québécois is fast approaching, but no official date has yet been set for when the government will meet with universities and student organizations to discuss issues concerning higher education. It has been loosely set for mid-February, but no official date has been given in the four months since the PQ first took office. In pre-summit talks held last month at McGill, student leaders with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and university officials disagreed over which subjects were important to discuss at the summit or what solutions were viable. The Concordia Student Union’s findings from their own consultation are due to be submitted to the FEUQ in order for them to be presented at the summit.

ECA accreditation drive
A campaign seeking accreditation for Concordia University’s Engineering and Computer Science Association will begin Jan. 14, with voting carrying on between Jan. 28 and Feb. 15. The ECA must achieve at least a 25 per cent turn-out for the votes to earn them accreditation, meaning that approximately 900 students must come out and vote ‘yes’ in order for the association to earn accreditation. Not having accreditation places the ECA in a difficult position, as they have limited powers to represent their student body, and the university is not required to grant them funding stemming from fee levies if they so choose.

An open conversation on the budget
A series of sessions that will be held this month at Concordia welcomes the community to be apart of conversations regarding the significant cut to the university’s operating grant for this fiscal year from the provincial government. Lisa Ostiguy, interim provost, and Patrick Kelley, chief financial officer, will host a community session this Monday, Jan. 14. Following an issue from the government on Dec. 11, the university’s operating grant was slashed by $13.2 million for the last four months of this fiscal year. The sessions will be small but the university does want to encourage people to register and attend these sessions. Senate will also have an opportunity to discuss the issue in their meeting Jan. 18. Registration opens Jan. 9 and more details will come from Concordia this week in the NOW e-newsletter.

The Concordia Student Union’s new council
The Concordia Student Union will have a fuller council this semester however will lack representatives from the Fine Arts faculty. The the CSU held byelections at the end of last semester to fill spaces due to the amount of resignations and empty seats. Caroline Bourbonnière, Patrick Lefebvre, Benjamin Prunty, Hardial Rosner, James Vaccaro and Ashley Walling all were elected to represent Arts and Science on council. Anja Rajaonarivelo, Pierre Tardivo Martin and Eugene Gusman were elected to the vacant JMSB seats since there were four open spots during the byelections. There are more than 30,000 students in the undergraduate student body and only 465 Concordia undergraduate students cast their votes. Although the byelections did allow the council to grow, the seats for Fine Arts on council remained empty.

Concordia Student Union News

CSU looks to education summit

The Concordia Student Union will start campaigning for student involvement in order to hold a vote related to the provincial government’s upcoming education summit scheduled for mid-February.

The CSU will launch a website within the next two weeks that will allow students to pitch their concerns with higher education and specifically the governance of Concordia. In order to reach out to as many students as possible, the CSU chose to have undergraduates participate online and vote on positions proposed by fellow students.

To submit a position, students must support their claims with academic research consisting of three articles. According to VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon, who is co-ordinating the initiative, the CSU will help individuals with research if they request it.

The website will also allow for discussion of the proposals put forth on the four themes to be discussed at the summit including quality of post-secondary education, the accessibility of higher education, the governance and financing of universities, and the contribution of research establishments to the development of Quebec. Then students will have the opportunity to vote on what they believe should be conveyed to the provincial government at the summit.

The Parti Québécois promised the education summit would address the concerns and issues that arose during the student strike movement. Lauzon hopes the CSU will compile 10 proposals per theme, allotting for a total of 40 positions to represent the opinions of the undergraduate student body at Concordia.

One concern is the participation of students. In order to meet quorum, at least 450 students must participate in the vote and it must be done by the end of the month. The CSU will encourage students to participate by campaigning in classrooms, buildings, online, with posters and purchasing advertising space.

“Everybody is going to hear about it if they are anywhere on campus,” said Lauzon. “We’re hoping two to three thousand people participate.”

Student Senator Wendy Kraus-Heitmann said she is worried about the details of the campaign proposal, stating it posed “major problems as written” and that she is concerned with time constraints. In an email to Lauzon, she suggested that the CSU hold a series of town halls and bring positions and stances by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec to students for them to vote on. The lack of time will make it less likely to hold a “meaningful” consultation according to Kraus-Heitmann.

Lauzon said that certain student faculty associations, specifically the Arts and Science Federation of Associations and the Engineering and Computer Science Association have already taken steps to contact their students to voice opinions. In September, ASFA’s executive took a strong stance in ensuring Arts and Science students would be heard in the upcoming conference.

While the CSU will not be present at the education summit itself since it is invite-only, Concordia students will be represented by the FEUQ. The results of the vote will be communicated to the university association so that Concordia-specific concerns may be voiced at the summit. Lauzon clarified that the CSU may also send a memo to the organizers of the summit if there is something they feel wasn’t addressed by FEUQ.

Some students like Mike de Sévigné, an independent student at Concordia, don’t have any concerns he wants brought to the summit.

“I’ve always been happy with what I have,” said de Sévigné. “But I do hope they [the government] listen to the concerns of other students and fulfill those needs.”

The PQ has not yet set a date for the summit.


Higher education summit on the horizon

Image via Flickr

The Parti Québécois announced a plan detailing the higher education summit that is set to take place early in the new year, last Thursday.

The four major themes on the agenda are the quality of post-secondary education, accessibility and participation, governance and financing of universities and the contribution of research to Quebec society.

“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity, it’s been a long time coming,” said Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec. “To have this situation where we can discuss and more importantly debate our visions of the entirety of the university network and long term projects is compelling.”

Desjardins said she is satisfied with the government’s consideration of the propositions brought forth by the FEUQ in terms of the summit’s structure and themes to be discussed.

“Now, all we have left to do is prepare,” she said. “We need to find people that will back up our demands and make sure that all that we advance is coherent and credible.”

Concordia Student Union’s VP external, Simon-Pierre Lauzon, has been working closely with various levels of student governance to create awareness about the upcoming conference. He emphasizes that now it is time to inform the student body and focus on the issues that they want to see prioritized at the summit.

“One of the themes that the government wants to talk about is university financing and governance,” said Lauzon. “How inclusive that category is, is up to debate at this point, how deep they want to dig into systematic changes is something that I’d be curious to know.”

Lauzon says that it is an important topic at Concordia, considering the hefty severance packages that have been handed out to senior administrators in the past.

“Concordia has a very interesting reputation at large for some of the decisions it’s made in terms of the administration, including what they did last year in reducing student involvement on the Board of Governors to one representative with voting rights,” said Lauzon.

According to Lauzon, a concern Concordia representatives will bring to the summit concerns the tuition fees of international students since they pay the highest rates. He feels that international students should also be subjected to a freeze so they aren’t taken advantage of by post-secondary institutions or the provincial government.

“I believe we should advocate for a tuition freeze for them as well because they do pay a lot of fees to the university and we don’t want to use these international students as piggy banks for the university or for the government at this point.”

Lauzon said students can expect consultation on these subjects in the form of general assemblies and surveys in the weeks leading up to the summit that is set to take place in mid-February.

The Political Science Student Association held a special general assembly Tuesday to discuss what they want to bring to the education summit but it did not meet quorum so it became an information session instead. The PSSA will hold another general assembly in the upcoming months.

Robin Reid-Fraser, VP external affairs of the Student Society of McGill University, confirmed with The Concordian that SSMU will begin hosting formal consultation sessions with its student membership concerning a wide variety of topics such as financial aid and student debt, anglophone students in Quebec and research, as of Nov. 19.

“I think that it seems to be a pretty good effort by the government and I’m glad that they are starting to talk about some of the issues that I think sort of got neglected by the Liberal government during the student strike,” said Reid-Fraser. “Hopefully, it will bring out students in a different kind of way than the tuition hike issue did.”


Anglophone universities prepare for education summit

Students of anglophone universities hope to voice their concerns at the upcoming education summit put forth by the provincial government to investigate university governance and management of post-secondary funds.

As part of her mandate, newly elected Premier Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois abolished the proposed tuition fee increase of $1,778 over the next seven years set by the previous Charest government, and promised a conference to address the concerns of post-secondary students.

The Arts and Science Federation of Associations of Concordia University set precedent in late September by approving a motion that mandated all member associations to consult students on the future of university education in preparation for the summit.

ASFA VP academic-Loyola, Eric Moses, told The Concordian that ASFA is in the process of forming a sub-committee that will examine all details surrounding the consultation of MAs.

“We [ASFA] are excited and in high gear with plans to facilitate our member associations’ process,” said Moses.
Following the consultation of its member associations, ASFA intends on bringing the concerns of their students to the table before the provincial government.

The structure of the summit and the date on which it will be held have yet to be confirmed by the PQ government but the Concordia Student Union’s VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon explained that the CSU, along with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, is lobbying for an open process whereas any student group who desires to, can show up and argue their position.

“This [education summit] is important because we have a government that has shown interest in the satisfaction of the Quebec student body; it would be a disservice to students given our responsibility as representatives to skip that opportunity to provoke more positive change for our student body,” said Lauzon.

Lauzon explained that if he represents Concordia at the summit, he will argue on behalf of undergraduate students from both inside and outside of the province.

“What makes Concordia special is that it is very multicultural, there are a lot of international and out-of-province students,” said Lauzon. “My goal is to push for their interests because I feel if we don’t do that sort of lobbying then it will not be done.”

The Fine Arts Student Alliance of Concordia attempted to have a special general meeting to discuss students’ concerns Thursday but was unable to reach quorum. FASA councillor Erika Couto said that a second special general meeting will likely take place in November.

“We’re looking towards a general assembly, in which we’ll discuss specifically concerns we’re worried about as fine arts students,” said Couto. “A lot of students are concerned because Marois said she’d be cancelling the hike for this year but there are no guarantees about anything going forward.”

Couto sees the proposed summit as a positive development considering the events that took place in the last year surrounding the Charest government’s proposed increase of tuition fees. According to Couto, a consultation between the government and students is a step in the right direction.

“It is good step into educational reform in Quebec. Who better to know what students need and what it’s like to be a student than students.”

According to VP external affairs of the Student Society of McGill University Robin Reid-Fraser, SSMU is hoping to work with the Post-Graduate Student Society on a possible collaborative effort across campuses to gather students’ perspectives on university governance, tuition and the role of universities in society amongst other issues.

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