This has been an eventful month for Quebec university students. On March 12, thousands of people in Montreal took to the streets in anticipation of the release of the provincial budget to call for the equitable funding of necessary social services. Post-secondary students from across Quebec joined in the demonstration to raise awareness about tuition increases that threaten Canada’s most accessible college and university system. Nearly every university and college was represented, with significant numbers of Montreal based students as well as provincial student lobby groups.
On March 17, Quebec released its latest budget. It was announced that in-province university tuition would rise by $325 a year for the next five years, bringing the total tuition for Quebec students to $3,793 per year. This amounts to a 75 per cent increase in current tuition and a roughly 127 per cent increase from tuition levels in 2000. This too was met with protests, one of the last avenues available to students as our voices have been ignored, disrespected, and shut out of discussions on tuition fees over the last five years.
We are witnessing the steady downfall of accessible higher education in Quebec. An increase in tuition is a short-term solution that can cause long-term damage to socioeconomic divides in the province. For many people living in middle and low-income families, these increases signify a closed door to a university education that cannot be re-opened for everyone with the availability of loans and bursaries, especially in light of rising fees and additional costs of a university education.
Furthermore, tuition hikes in other countries have led to a government divestment in higher education and the privatization of universities in the system. At McGill, we see this in small leaps as more funding is poured into the research mission of the University, more importance is placed on corporate research contracts, and professional programs like the MBA are rendered entirely “self-funding” through high tuition and fees. The priorities of the Liberal government and our University are straying from the tenant of accessible education that was once a point of pride for Quebec.
Despite the severe impact of these increases on students all over the Quebec, the presence of McGill students in at the March 12 demonstration was certainly lacking considering our large population. The time for inaction on and off campus is gone. It is time to educate ourselves and prepare for what’s ahead.
QPIRG McGill, SSMU, and the Muslim Students Association will be hosting a panel and town hall discussion as a part of Social Justice Days on tuition hikes, access to education, and what students are doing about it in Stewart Biology room S1/4 this Thursday, March 24, at 6 p.m. This event is a perfect starter resource for all of those interested in getting involved in the province-wide fight against tuition hikes. For more information on tuition, check out tuitiontruth.ca.
Rae Dooley was SSMU VP University Affairs (09-10) and is a former QPIRG McGill Board Member. Rae can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.