Despite plans to hold a summit on higher education next month, the Quebec government reiterated its support this week for a tuition hike of between $46 to $83 per year. The amount would vary depending on whether a rise in household disposable income and an increase in operational costs are considered, according to a plan submitted by economist Pierre Fortin at a preliminary meeting in December.
Government officials have been touting the summit as a way of building consensus about university funding and management.
Pierre Duchesne, the Quebec minister of higher education, called free education “unfeasible” and said on Tuesday that the notion of a tuition freeze needed to be “defined.” The remark comes a month after Fortin described indexation to inflation as a “tuition freeze in every practical sense.”
In an interview with The Daily, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) President Martine Desjardins said in French that the “game was still not set.”
“We still have a lot of time to make sure the government understands that a tuition freeze is the only measure that can ensure accessibility,” she said. “Most of the actors [at the summit] are against indexation, and the consensus seems to be against that proposition.”
On Wednesday, the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics – an organization composed of unions and community groups – held a demonstration in downtown Montreal against some of the government’s austerity measures, including the proposed tuition hike.
“It was clear in December after the [government] budget was submitted that we weren’t talking about a tuition freeze anymore, but of indexation,” André Frappier, president and co-spokesperson of progressive provincial party Québec solidaire, told The Daily in French. “At every level, [the government] is taking steps away from the promises it made.”
“The summit will be used to let off some steam, but I don’t think it will come up with solutions comparable to the mobilization we saw last year. It’s also written in the budget; it cannot be anything else but indexation,” he added.
Another provincial party has suggested a much more significant hike. François Legault, the leader of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), said on Monday that a select group of universities, such as McGill and the Université de Montréal, should be able to determine tuition unilaterally.
“It’s important to protect accessibility, but we have to be able to tell the truth in Quebec,” he told reporters in French at a press conference in Quebec City. “Right now, some universities don’t have the means to attract the best researchers. It’s obvious that the Université de Montréal doesn’t have the same resources as the University of Toronto, all proportions considered.”
According to his plan, students at other universities would have to pay between 15 and 20 per cent of the cost of their education. The price for studying medicine, for example, would thus be higher than for an Arts degree.
“It is obvious that Legault doesn’t understand the system and is applying principles which aren’t relevant to the university system,” Desjardins said. “We’ve invited him on a number of occasions to the summit and he has never proposed anything to solve the problems we face.”
Quebec’s summit on higher education is slated to begin on February 26.