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Student media look towards brighter future

As the tuition hikes loom over anglophone universities, student media hope they stay afloat.

Student media organizations across the city are exploring new funding alternatives.

After speaking with student media institutions across the city, the consensus is clear: fee-levies are the main source of revenue for most outlets, and these fee-levies have not increased since the early 2010s. Fee-levies are a small amount of money, typically between a couple cents to dollars, which students pay per course credit that fund student groups and associations.

CKUT, McGill University’s radio station, just finished its week-long annual funding drive last month and reached its fundraising goal of $50,000. It was a bittersweet celebration though. 

“$50,000 doesn’t even cover our rent per year of this building alone,” said Madeline Lines, CKUT’s funding and outreach coordinator.

The radio station is facing financial difficulties with a growing deficit. If the station does not find new sources for revenue, it will have to shut down in the next two years, Lines said.

“We hit a wall,” Lines said. “We’re in this tricky situation, where it is a bit of a last chance for us, our whole organization could go under.”

Over half of CKUT’s revenues are from fee levies—students pay a small fee for every course credit—which has not increased in the past 10 years. “Think about how much a sandwich cost in 2012 and how much it costs today,” Lines said. “There’s a huge difference.”

Madeline Lines is looking for new ways to fund CKUT’s operations. Photo by Camila Lewandowski / The Concordian

The McGill Daily is also facing financial uncertainty. Their coordinator, Olivia Shan, said that the paper’s financial situation is “really nerve-racking.”

She said that with the money they collect from fee-levies and advertising, they can barely pay for printing and staff honorariums—editors are paid $250 per month although they work around 15 hours per week.

Both student-run organizations are also anticipating a drop in revenues because of the tuition hikes announced by the provincial government last fall, which Shan said will cause a drop in enrollment. As of December of last year, McGill University has already seen a drop of 20 per cent. 

Concordia too has observed a 30 per cent enrollment drop, as of December 2023. Therefore, if student publications cannot rely on fee-levies, they must look elsewhere.

Cameron McIntyre said that CJLO is looking to diversify its revenues in anticipation of the coming tuition hikes. Photo by Camila Lewandowski / The Concordian

Concordia’s radio station, CJLO, has a balanced budget, but the team is looking to diversify its revenue in anticipation of the tuition hikes. Allison O’Reilly, the station manager, said that they expect to see their revenue drop by 15 to 20 per cent next fall because of the tuition increase.

“We are going to put more effort into fundraising,” said the programming director, Cameron McIntyre. “We want to establish ourselves as an institution that is less reliant on fee levies.”

He said that the radio station will focus on collecting more money during their annual funding drive to compensate for the revenue losses they expect in the coming years. 

O’Reilly added that CJLO understands the economic burden that university students are facing as a result of the hikes, which is why the station will now turn towards its listeners and the Montreal community at large for financial support.

Étienne Dubuc said that in the last couple of years, the Université de Montréal observed a significant drop in its enrollment rate. Photo by Camila Lewandowski / The Concordian

French-speaking universities are also experiencing a drop in enrollment.

Étienne Dubuc, the general director of CISM, the Université de Montréal’s radio station, said they made $20,000 less last year than they usually do because of dwindling enrollment.

“Cutting back on expenses is starting to be quite unfeasible,” he said. “We’re rolling at a minimum to [produce] something that’s welcoming and fun.”

He explained that if CISM were to cut staff’s hours it would diminish the services and support offered to volunteers who want to get involved in the station. 

As advertising revenues shrink and fee-levies remain unmoved, Dubuc is considering setting up a subscription program: listeners can make a pledge to CISM, which would give them exclusive access to content and to their favourite shows.

Back at McGill, Lines said that CKUT is a voice for underrepresented communities and advocates for social change and justice. “I think that that doesn’t always align with McGill’s investors’ interests or opinions,” she said.

Shan shared a similar sentiment, saying that the McGill Daily is “pretty much left with little support from the university.”

In the meantime, CKUT is reaching out to the Montreal community for donations to stay afloat.

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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.”

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Student strike stalemate sways public opinion

If the Quebec government hoped to see the student movement against tuition hikes lose momentum with the end of the academic year, student leaders say they should think again.

Despite the Liberals’ attempts to appease the student protesters with first signs of interest in negotiating and promises of bursary bonifications, the government is currently taking increasing heat from businesses, universities and citizens, being urged to quickly find a solution to the ongoing stalemate.

Two weeks ago, the head of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec warned that an extension of the winter semester would have repercussions on the number of students filling summer jobs, and would result in a serious blow to the province’s tourism and economy. Last week, the rector of the Université du Québec à Rimouski also urged Minister of Education Line Beauchamp to re-establish a dialogue with students and proposed to name a mediator.

“In this context of pre-elections, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the Charest government to maintain their position [in favour of tuition hikes],” said Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec president Martine Desjardins. “The government is expecting the movement to lose steam, but what we see is an increasing number of strike votes and an intensification of the movement.”

At Concordia, despite a one-week general strike and sporadic disruptions of classes and exams, the movement led by the Concordia Student Union will likely have no effect on the university’s academic calendar. Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota said the movement was not disruptive enough to make the university consider an extension of the winter semester.

In other universities, however, administrations are forced to adjust their schedules due to as much as eight weeks of general strikes in some cases.

UQÀR, Université du Québéc à Montréal and Université de Montréal are looking into extending the winter semester by at least a month and are hoping for a return to classes by April 16.

“Cancelling a semester would have disastrous economic consequences for universities and CÉGEPS,” said Desjardins. “It would mean having double the number of students next year, double the amount of professors and double the entire costs.”

Many departments in these universities have voted for an unlimited strike until their demands are met or until their student union puts an end to the movement. Added to that, the major student associations are informally respecting an agreement of non-denunciation and non-negotiation, where associations cannot question the legitimacy of other student groups’ actions, nor can they initiate negotiations with the government without the presence of all the major associations. The return to classes will likely depend on the government’s decision to negotiate with students.

For Desjardins, the threat formulated by Beauchamp warning students of academic consequences after the massive March 22 protest only proved the Liberal government had its back against the wall.

Beauchamp opened the window for negotiations for the first time last week saying she was ready to talk about improving the loans and bursaries program, but was adamant in her refusal to contemplate a tuition freeze.

“I cannot sit down at a table with students and discuss the topic of ‘to whom are we passing the bill to,’” Beauchamp told La Presse.

Although Desjardins praised Beauchamp’s effort to initiate negotiations, she said raising conditions for the talk was a bad start.

Desjardins also said that student mobilization against tuition hikes will continue to grow and actions will continue to be organized week after week, depending on the context and government responses.

“So far, it doesn’t look like we are stopping anytime soon,” she said.

At Concordia, there are still no signs of a petition that would initiate a third general assembly in order to vote for a continuation of the strike among undergraduate students. Concordia Student Union vice-president external Chad Walcott said that even if a GA was to be held by the CSU, “it would be very difficult [in the context of the end of the semester] to mobilize enough people in time in order to meet quorum.” However, Walcott said that the CSU would still participate in other organizations’ movements and said the union was ready to provide the necessary resources to students who “are keeping the movement alive.”

The major actions planned by student organizations so far are a protest in Premier Jean Charest’s Sherbrooke riding on April 4 and an outdoor show in downtown Montreal on April 5.

Information about future actions will be posted on the FEUQ’s, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec’s and the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante’s websites.

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To strike or not to strike

March 7 will be the day that undergraduate students decide on Concordia’s role in the province-wide battle against tuition fee hikes in Quebec.

The Concordia Student Union has passed a motion setting March 7 as a date for a general assembly for a strike mandate expected to last from March 26 to 29.

“This is pretty much, the only card left that the students have in their hands in Quebec,” said CSU president Lex Gill at at last Wednesday’s council meeting. While Gill admitted that a strike will not be easy, she described it as a necessary step against tuition fee increases in the province.

This week, the CSU will renew their campaign against the hikes, launching an information campaign leading up to the assembly in March about the pros and cons of going forth with a strike, including flyers, posters, booklets and speeches.

“It’s really important to us that moving towards March 7, each student is fully aware of what they are going to be voting on and what impacts it will have on them,” said VP external Chad Walcott at the meeting.

Other events in the campaign include a one week sleep-in at the library to raise awareness about the tuition increases, fax and phone jams and F#ck Tuition Tuesdays at Reggie’s Bar in the Hall Building.

“To talk about a strike at this point, frankly if we weren’t I would be really worried,” said Gill, who reminded council that there are other student unions in Quebec planning strikes as early as February.

Walcott said strikes are proven to be effective in putting pressure on the government.

“We’re in a position to have a serious impact on our province,” he added in an interview.

During the meeting, some concerns were raised with regards to international students, and the potential consequences of their participation in long-term demonstrations. The CSU, however, insisted that international students who choose to strike will not run risk of being deported.

Concordia’s Mob Squad is also planning for future demonstrations, and teamed up with McGill to hold a winter training camp for interested activists last weekend.

Concordia students first protested the hikes on Nov.10, joining tens of thousands of students marching against the extra $1625 worth of tuition fees proposed by the Jean Charest government. The province currently plans to increase the cost of university tuition $325 yearly over the next five years.

The next province-wide demonstration is set for March 22.

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