The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held its monthly Council meeting on November 4. Council heard a presentation given by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), of which PGSS is a member, and passed motions on austerity, tuition deregulation, and mental health.
Austerity and tuition deregulation
The first motion discussed and passed tasked PGSS with encouraging its members to participate in an anti-austerity demonstration on November 29. The protest is organized by Refusons l’austérité, a coalition of ten groups including FEUQ.
Speaking in favour of the motion, PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet said, “I think it would be interesting for PGSS to be a part of that, because, of course, we are all extremely affected by those cuts. It will affect the quality and accessibility of our education.”
Another motion regarding attending the October 31 anti-austerity protest was brought up at the previous PGSS Annual General Meeting on October 22; however, the clauses that would compel PGSS to join the protest were struck.
“The fact that our members are scattered across the city makes it extremely difficult for us to mobilize them on such short notice,” said Ouellet in an email to The Daily, explaining why PGSS did not endorse the October 31 protest. “While we can all agree that the protest on [October 31] was peaceful and in line with our stance against austerity, we did not have enough information about it to make an informed decision at the time.”
“None of these reasons keep us from participating in protest [on November 29], and we will make sure that PGSS comes out in force,” he concluded.
Council also passed a motion mandating PGSS to support the stances of departmental postgraduate student associations on the issue of international student tuition deregulation. PGSS will create a policy to that effect, and will additionally demand that no program’s tuition be deregulated without obtaining consent from its students through democratic means.
FEUQ mobilization campaign
FEUQ President Jonathan Bouchard told councillors about FEUQ’s annual mobilization campaign, which this year has to do with updating the provincial government’s student loan program.
“What has happened in the past is that the cost of living has increased much faster than the actual loans and bursaries; and that’s basically because of how [the government] evaluates [students’] needs,” said Bouchard at the meeting.
Bouchard explained that the cost of living has increased by 45 per cent since 1994, but the bursary amounts have increased only by approximately 24 per cent.
“The newly elected government has a very strict economic plan to go back to zero deficit. It is a very aggressive plan, we do need to have mobilization for the campaign,” said Bouchard.
In response to Bouchard’s comment about opposing austerity measures, PGSS Equity Commissioner Michael Krause questioned FEUQ’s motives.
“About a year and a half ago, when the [Parti Québécois] was doing austerity, you came to us and said that the universities had enough money; it was just mismanagement. And now that the Liberals are in power, now that there is austerity, we have to go on the streets. So where does the FEUQ stand exactly, and has anything changed but the government?” Krause asked.
In reply, Bouchard said that FEUQ’s stance on university finances was still the same, and that they have been waiting for a report on how universities are financed from the government since June 2014.
“Huge cuts have been imposed on universities right in the middle of their financial year,” Bouchard said.
Mental health priorities
PGSS passed a motion to set the priorities of the PGSS Mental Health Working Group, which was created after PGSS approved a mental health policy on May 7.
“[The group is] simply a working group based off of volunteers. Just like [the councillors], they don’t have a lot of time, so their question is: what they should they prioritize this year?” PGSS Health Commissioner Elizabeth Cawley told Council.
Graduate Association of Students in Psychology (GASP) Representative Nora Hope spoke in favour of prioritizing more accessible mental health services and resources over awareness-raising, citing the fact that it constituted a more direct and concrete focus.
“If we don’t have enough services available to treat students […] increasing awareness and reducing stigma for seeking out mental health services [becomes ineffective] to some degree,” Hope said at Council.
In the end, Council decided to have the working group prioritize advocating for more accessible services and resources.