Commentary | Accessible education is not a pipe dream

Why Quebec’s tuition increases are unnecessary

In the upcoming months, students will mobilize to fight against the tuition increases proposed by the government of Quebec Premier Jean Charest. If the student strikes are to be successful in deterring tuition increases, as they have been in the past, mass student support is required. This reality makes a general student strike at McGill extremely valuable.

In order for this to occur, though, the many doubts McGill students have about the intentions of the movement to stop tuition increases will need to be quelled. While these doubts vary from person to person, they essentially boil down to the question of “where will the money come from?”

This question is a fair and healthy one, but it seems to indicate that the anti-increase movement is perceived as utopian, with vast ideals but no means of achieving them. This is partially due to the movement’s inability to communicate to a broad audience their alternative means of overcoming the “underfunding”. In hopes of helping to overcome this problem, an alternative option to raising tuition will now be presented, though I speak in no way for the accessible education movement as a whole

The question of “where will the money come from?” arises in response to the claim that Quebec’s universities are currently underfunded. This initial claim is actually false, as it would be more accurate to state that Quebec’s universities are improperly funded. Despite the fact that Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in Canada, it spends the largest amount of money per student in the country, and internationally is only trumped by the United States and South Korea. It only appears as if the universities are underfunded because a large portion of funds are directed towards research, rather than operating costs such as professors’ and non-academic employees’ salaries.

Regardless, if you accept the claim that universities in Quebec are underfunded, this should not lead you to automatically assume that students need to carry the burden to make sure that universities receive the funding they need. The Quebec government is capable of carrying this burden – although, with the relatively small amount required to do so, it seems disingenuous to call it a burden for the government. For example, the Quebec government could generate the revenue needed to provide free education by raising the top-bracket income tax by 1.4 per cent and creating a corporate capital gains tax of 2.4 per cent. If the government can raise the funds for free education this easily, preventing the proposed tuition hikes is certainly plausible.

Moreover, in order to fight the tuition increases, you don’t need to believe that education is a right, and you don’t need to be one of the so feared “radicals” at McGill. The effects of raising tuition will be numerous, and they will be harmful. If the proposed tuition increase goes through, students will be excluded from education based solely upon their available means of income. Some claim the financial aid system will prevent this, but in reality, the same 17 per cent of students who are eligible for aid now will be eligible in the future, leaving 83 per cent with the full burden of the increases.

Beyond keeping certain students out of the system, the increases will punish those who choose to go to university with debts in the future. As it currently stands, the average debt for students in Quebec who take out student loans is just over $15 000, while the Canadian average is just over $26 000. Increased student debt will certainly come along with tuition increases that seek to bring Quebec tuition to the Canadian average.

Essentially, there is nothing “radical”  about opposing policies that will inflict this type of damage upon students and their families. And despite what some would like you to believe, realistic alternatives to these policies do exist. The matter of tuition increases is not one of idealists versus realists, but rather one of access versus exclusion and debt versus financial security. The next couple months will decide which side prospers, but a large part of the result rests on you, the student.

Balaclava Discourse is a column written by Davide Mastracci on the structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in society. You can email him at balaclavadiscourse@mcgilldaily.com.


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