No surprises at Quebec education consultation

Province confirms plans to increase tuition but questions remain

The Quebec government held its big meeting of “education partners” on Monday and it pretty much went down exactly as expected: students held a large protest and the government reaffirmed their commitment to increasing tuition.

The only unexpected event of the day was when representatives from labour and student groups walked out of the meeting. While I didn’t see the walkout coming, I can’t say it was a surprise; these groups had already condemned the meeting and other student groups boycotted it. The reason for the walkout and the boycott, that the government came into the meeting with its mind already made up, does seem to have merit. At a press conference following the meeting, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand reminded reporters that the government had promised a tuition increase in last spring’s budget.

As for the protests, they were huge. I’ve been to a lot of tuition related protests in my time as a student journalist and without a doubt this was the biggest one I’ve ever covered. The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec protest, outside the hotel where the meeting took place, had numbers in the high hundreds all afternoon. For their part, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante had a larger protest, which started outside the National Assembly, across the street from the hotel, snaked its way through old Quebec and then back up to the hotel. It’s hard to come up with a number. I’d guess around 2,000 people, maybe more.

The big question now is what happens next. While the government has promised tuition increases it’s still not clear how much fees will rise or even when that will be announced.

The government has dropped some hints though. At the press conference on Monday, Bachand was echoing some talking points from the group that represents university administrators, saying that due to inflation students are now paying less than they were in 1968. The Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities has called for tuition to increase by $500 a year over three years. An increase of that size would bring tuition fees for Quebec residents to just under $3,700, certainly a major increase but still less than the current national average.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that this is what the government will do but if I were to put money on it, I’d bet that the government will put forward a similar plan.

CREPUQ has also called for significant increases to financial aid, with 25 per cent of funds raised through any increase being put towards grants and loans. While the government hasn’t offered any numbers on financial aid increases, they have promised to increase aid levels in conjunction with a rise in tuition.

How any increase will affect students from out of province also remains very unclear. Canadian students who are not Quebec residents already pay significantly more than Quebecers, over $5,600 a year. Those rates are already increasing faster than tuition for Quebec residents who have seen tuition rise by $100 a semester since 2007. It’s probably a given that out-of-province tuition will rise along with the Quebec resident rate but given that these fees are already the third highest for Canadians in the country, only Nova Scotia, which has a higher out-of-province rate and Ontario, which does not have separate rates based on provincial residency, have higher undergraduate fees.

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