Tuition fees in the age of Zoom University

Students all over Quebec asking for universities to Lower tuition

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities all over Canada and the world have shifted to online learning.

Multiple petitions to lower the online semester’s tuition at Concordia are making their way through our Facebook feeds.

The first petition, created by Yuvraj Singh Athwal, has a goal of 1,500 signatures, and has around 1,200. The second petition, created by a group of anonymous Concordia Students, has a goal of 1,000 signatures, and currently has around 700.

Due to this very necessary shift into the online world, students have lost in-person access to many resources which, for many, are a crucial part of the typical university experience.

Athwal, the organizer of the ‘Reduce tuition fees due to online classes’ petition, explains in the description, “None of the students are using any of the university resources including libraries, labs etc. Also, the learning experience with online classes is not even comparable to that with in-person classes which is more dynamic and life-like.”

The second petition remains similar, stating in its description, “This substantial change is having an immense impact on the quality of our education. In-person interactions, facilities and resources represent a great part of our learning experience.”

In-person resources can include library study spaces, clubs, gyms, labs, certain food experiences, and most importantly the social context of university.  However, it is important to note that on certain occasions labs are open, and students can reserve in-person study spaces at the library.

In the petition description, Concordia students go on to say, “Students are required to work from home, in confined spaces where distractions are prominent and exchange of ideas nonexistent.”

Students have written comments on the petition explaining their frustrations with the cost of this unique semester. Student Leila Beyea wrote, “Finding a job during this has been so hard, and I just don’t have $10,000 to spend on a year of school where I don’t even get to meet anyone or see the school.”

In addition to the petition, a class-action lawsuit has been brought forward by the law firm Jean-François Bertrand Avocats Inc., with Claudia Larose, a student at Laval University, as a representative.

According to Flavie Garceau-Bolduc, a lawyer on the case, “[The class-action lawsuit] is a request for a reimbursement of the perceived cost of university for the Winter 2020 semester. The students — when enrolling to courses — had certain expectations in terms of the services they’d have access to. Without going into specifics, this can include libraries, gyms, and study rooms. This also encompasses the social context for which students pay. So when [students] cover their academic costs, it’s not only for classes but for much more than that.”

In its first stages, and still waiting for approval from the Quebec judiciary system, the lawsuit seeks retribution of damages of $30 per credit for each student enrolled in the Winter 2020 semester.

Garceau-Bolduc said, “Instead of each student taking judicial action against universities to ask for reimbursements […] we take on that burden collectively for the students. This avoids overworking the tribunals, but also avoids individual costs for each student looking for retribution of damages. It’s really a procedure which has the objective to give access to justice for all citizens looking to recuperate these damages.”


Visuals by Taylor Reddam


Editorial: Concordia is going after International Students

The news spread like wildfire on social media after the CSU shared a statement on a variety of Facebook groups and platforms. The statement detailed how the university’s administration has been looking to increase tuition costs for international students for the last three years. The CSU believes a proposal is expected to be approved by the board of governors on Dec. 14, meaning the increase would be implemented starting in the fall 2017 semester.

We were in shock here at The Concordian, as international students already pay way more than Quebec residents. Many of these students rack up a huge amount of debt whilst studying in our bustling metropolis, or are forced to look for some sort of employment to ease the financial burden. However, it can be especially difficult for non-francophone students to get jobs in Montreal.

Here at The Concordian, we think this proposed tuition hike is downright shady. It feels like Concordia is finding new ways to extort money from the student population, like capitalist vampires on a bloodthirsty hunt for fresh meat. According to the CSU’s website, international students currently make up approximately 17 per cent of Concordia’s students body, and they are the source of 25 per cent of the university’s tuition-based revenue—this was revealed during the university’s September 2016 budget meeting. At the meeting, it was also stated that “Concordia is looking to increase the ratio of international students in order to generate additional revenue from tuition,” according to the CSU.

The fact that this proposal has been in the works for the past three years is also quite troublesome, especially given the fact that it’s only being brought to our attention now. How many other secret projects are in the pipeline that’ll impact our student population? We would like to think that Concordia values its international students and what they bring to our university, but the current circumstance seems to suggest they value money more than good education.

As of yet, the university won’t allow CSU representatives to see the proposal, meaning we—the students—won’t be able to get the concrete details.

“[The proposal] has yet to be presented to the Finance Committee of the Board of Governors. That will only open happen late next month. We have to respect our governance process so the proposal won’t be shared with anyone until it goes through the required.” Said Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota.

We understand the protocol in this situation, but we believe the university should be more transparent and divulge the true details of this proposal, so the student body can be fully informed before anything is approved.

This isn’t the first time international students have been screwed over either. Rewind to 2012, when the media reported widely on the fact that many Chinese international students were being ripped off. CBC News reported that Concordia hired a third party recruiter to attract chinese students to the university, yet the recruiter overstepped his role and essentially took their money and set them up in housing accommodations. When the students arrived, many of them were crammed into tiny rooms and were not even fed properly, according to the same report. Many students lost a lot of money and were afraid to speak out because they weren’t aware of their rights and feared deportation.

The university’s main focus should be on providing an opportunity for students—both from Quebec and abroad—to get a decent education and acquire the skills and expertise they need to work in an international job market. How can Concordia build its reputation abroad if the administration is constantly trying to suckle every penny out of these poor students?


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.”


Concordia refunds the tuition hike

Full-time Quebec students can expect a $254 refund for the 2012-2013 academic year. Photo via Flickr.

The provincial government issued official directives to post-secondary institutions on the rollback of the tuition fee increase last week.

Quebec university students will be reimbursed the additional money they paid as part of the Charest Liberals provincial budget that sought to lift the freeze on tuition fees. Therefore, full-time Quebec students can expect a full refund or credit of the $127.05 increase per term or total of $254 for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec, slated an increase of $325 a year over a total of five years for a hike of $1,625 sparking a seven-month long student strike movement. While negotiating with student leaders, the government then escalated the original increase from $1,625 to a total of $1,778 over seven years. Students this year were required to pay an additional $8.75 per credit.

Although Premier Pauline Marois announced the cancellation of the hike the day after the Parti Québécois won a minority government in the provincial election Sept. 4, universities were waiting upon official, written directives from the Quebec government before issuing a refund.

Joël Bouchard, the press attaché for Pierre Duchesne, the minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, confirmed in an interview with The Concordian that universities could expect instructions from the government in the following days.

McGill University announced on Sunday that its administration would be taking steps to apply the refund to students who pay Quebec tuition rates. Unlike Concordia, international and out-of-province students at McGill will not be reimbursed until the provincial government “renders its final decision” according to the statement.

In comparison, Concordia University released a statement online on Thursday Nov. 1 to inform all students that an adjustment and credit would be made to their fees for next semester. However, if students wish to be reimbursed before January, they can submit a request through their MyConcordia student portal and the university will comply.

Concordia President Alan Shepard discussed the refund during presidential remarks at Senate on Friday, saying that the downside of reimbursing students is that “it costs money to make those cheques” but that the university would issue them nonetheless.

Not all universities have issued an official notice of the repeal but both Concordia and Université du Québec à Montréal addressed statements to all students.

For Heather Gleason-Beard, a second-year education student at McGill from Toronto, she felt it was unfair that only Quebec residents received a reimbursement.

They did say they are awaiting to hear from the government, … so it may happen,” said Gleason-Beard. “It is pretty frustrating and unfair but I won’t lie, it is something I would expect from McGill.”

The Concordian contacted McGill, but the director of media relations could give no information on the matter.


The cost of the student movement

Dozens of student protests took place last spring, including this one on McGill College St. in March 2012. Photo by Navneet Pall.

The costs of this year’s student strike movement is the centre of attention yet again as the l’Université du Québec à Montréal claims the protests associated with the university amounted to $20 million and the provincial government estimates that overall costs for all post-secondary institutions are at $40 million and counting.

Both claims, made last week by the university’s rector Claude Corbo and Pierre Duchesne, the minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, respectively, attracted attention and criticism.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, was critical of the figures provided by UQAM and Duchesne.

“We have information that says it’s not 20 or 40 million dollars,” she said in an interview with The Concordian, “But that the strike cost the government over 150 million dollars, because we explain it to include costs for teachers, for assistants, also for people who work in the libraries. There are a lot of costs involved.”

“Of course the strike has cost a lot,” Desjardins added. “But I doubt UQAM has $20 million only due to the strike, actually I expect it to be more. They’re trying to get more and more money from the government because they’re a little bit shocked that there are no more tuition fee hikes anymore.”

For Concordia University the estimated costs came to a much lower figure of $226,755.39, all for additional security costs according to Chris Mota, university spokesperson.

“I know at other universities there was physical damage and there were other issues but at Concordia it was only the additional security,” she said.

In terms of security, McGill University devoted $275,233.39 of its budget for additional security while UQAM spent $841,414.95 and the Université de Montréal spent the least at $151,043.19 for the winter semester.

Outside of the education sector, other groups bore heavy costs from the protests as well. While the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal refuses to release any estimates of damage without a formal request filed under the Access to Information Act, the overtime pay for SPVM employees from February to June alone cost a hefty $7.3 million according to figures obtained by Radio-Canada earlier this year.

Steve Siozios, president of the Crescent Street Merchant’s Association, told The Concordian that they estimate their losses to be an average loss per business of 20 per cent at the height of the protests.

“We lost 20 per cent in April, May and June,” he said. “But it’s also more extensive than that because it kind of killed the whole summer. It had a very negative effect on merchants.”

Siozios also explained how a false perception of violence and danger in the downtown core scared people from outside of the city away from visiting.

“There were incidents, but it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was,” he said. “All of it has led to a very bad year so far. It’s closed down businesses already and by year end it’s going to close down more.”

Desjardins, meanwhile, believes the blame for costs lie firmly with the Liberal government, which is currently the official opposition in Quebec.

“They should be ashamed. They should be the ones going out and explaining themselves, why did they take so long to sit at the table and negotiate with us?” she said. “It should have been done earlier and I’m pretty sure we could have achieved an agreement at that time, in April, in March, but they waited for a general election and I think they should be ashamed of themselves.”

“They should be in front of the population and answering questions because we have been losing a lot of money over their way of handling this crisis,” added Desjardins.


Red Square Block Party showcases alternative student associations

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Students gathered at Concordia University’s downtown campus on Thursday for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s Red Square Block Party as part of the week long DISorientation.

The party focused little on the student strike movement with the exception of a table for Concordia’s Mob Squad. The Mob Squad was there to inform students on the Parti Québécois’ recent decision to repeal the tuition fee increase, as well as planned future marches and initiatives. Most of the event showcased student associations that Concordia students may not know about.

The purpose of the event was to reclaim public space. The gathering focused on the lack of student space at the university’s downtown campus after the development of a long sought-after student centre from the Concordia Student Union was put on hold last year.

“Throughout the years [conventional orientation events have] become more and more axed on, the single-minded focus on partying and drinking rather than a true introduction into what post-secondary education is,” said Christina Xydous, QPIRG’s administrative co-ordinator. “Groups that you’re seeing here have come together to offer an alternative view and perhaps a broader approach to the school experience for Concordia students.”

Booths lined the stretch of sidewalk on De Maisonneuve Blvd. between Guy St. and Mackay St. offering information about a variety of student groups. Organizations such as Le Frigo Vert, Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore, the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, Concordia Animal Rights Association, and Cinema Politica spent the afternoon handing out pamphlets in an an effort to engage passing students.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know other community groups at Concordia and to share information and also to talk to a lot of people that walk by and are interested,” said Emma Pietrangelo, a volunteer with the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.

The People’s Potato also took part in the “Red Square Block Party” serving a free lunch.

“I think that these things should happen more often because they definitely do show what’s going on at Concordia and show what Concordia is all about,” said Pietrangelo. “It’s not just big tall buildings. We’re a lot about organizations and people participating.”


Stomping out the hike?

Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

Concordia University announced that it will not be modifying the current tuition fee arrangement, which includes the increase tabled by the outgoing Liberal government, until it receives directives from the new Government of Quebec.

In a press conference following the Parti Québécois’ minority government victory, Premier-designate Pauline Marois announced her government will abolish tuition hikes by decree and annul Law 12.

Universities province-wide are waiting on official instructions from the newly formed government on what kind of adjustments will be made. Marois will officially become Premier Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Concordia University spokesperson Chris Mota explained that the setting of fees is not within the university’s discretion nor is the timing. The government decides it and universities must comply. In accordance with the increase set by the outgoing Liberal government, Concordia charged a surplus of $254 per student for the academic year.

“Once the new fees were mandated, the increases went into effect,” said Mota.

Université de Montréal spokesperson, Mathieu Filion, confirmed that tuition fees for the 2012-13 academic year were decided before the elections, and that like Concordia, U de M is waiting on the government’s instructions. McGill University spokesperson Julie Fortier also confirmed with The Concordian that McGill took a similar stance.

It is not clear yet on how university students will be compensated across the province, whether it be by a credit system applicable to the following term or by full refund.

“The university certainly budgeted with the increase in mind,” said Mota. “However, we were prepared to adjust the budget in the event that the increase was reversed,” she explained. “All Quebec universities have been quite vocal about the need for increased funding. Where that funding comes from is up to the government to decide.”

Along with educational institutions, many student groups also voiced their concern over the fact that the increase was implemented before the election campaign began. Concordia Student Union President Schubert Laforest told The Concordian that he hopes Concordia administration has a backup plan to deal with this turn of events.

“I hope the university has a bulletproof plan to deal with this roll back in a sustainable way for when it does happen,” said Laforest, “as opposed to [having] the situation crash and burn because it wasn’t planned for.”

Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec President Martine Desjardins expressed that it’s a troubling situation with the repeal of the tuition fee increase.

“I think the majority of students were surprised to see the tuition increase on their bills while we were in the middle of an election campaign,” said Desjardins. “To see that they were so eager to have students pay will only cause [universities] more administrative headaches to in turn refund students.”

VP external affairs of the Student Society of McGill University, Robin Reid-Fraser explained that there was a lack of communication between the institution and students regarding the tuition increase.

“McGill was very much planning that the increase was going to happen and fit it into their budget. It is not clear that McGill was really considering a plan B despite everything that was happening with the strike,” said Reid-Fraser.

According to Desjardins, representatives of the FEUQ plan to meet with the Minister of Education in the days following his or her appointment. She estimates it will take up to a week before they will be able to transmit any new and clear information about the current situation. Desjardins said she believes that the PQ will not back down on its decision to cancel the tuition fee increase.

“It wasn’t just a promise; it’s a commitment,” said Desjardins. “A government that pledges so forcefully simply can not backtrack.”

Exit mobile version