News  Minister may increase tuition

A handful of students respond at TaCEQ protest

Fledgling student organization Table de concentration étudiante du Quebec (TaCEQ) has responded angrily to intimations from minister of education Michelle Courchesne last week that the province may raise tuition costs again.

The Roddick Gates were flanked by 10 or 12 protesters yesterday handing out flyers and carrying signs, warning passersby, “Tuition hikes are coming.” The demonstration was organized in part by SSMU VP (External) Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan, who has been instrumental in creating TaCEQ.

Ronderos-Morgan expressed concern about the intentions of the education ministry, which has set 2012 as the final year in which provincial tuition costs would go up. “They could fast-track something,” he said, adding later that he would be “shocked if anything was done before 2012.”

SSMU Arts representative Joël Pedneault said he feared the tuition increases could come “as early as March,” when the Charest government releases its annual budget.

Tamara Davis, the press attaché for Minister Courchesne, denied that substantive plans for a tuition hike were in the works. Referring to the current regime of tuition increases, which has yearly hikes pegged at $100, Davis said, “We have an electoral agreement to increase [tuition fees] up until 2012…and we are maintaining our promise.”

TaCEQ was not the only organization to respond in opposition to the announcement. Similar demonstrations were held the same day at other Montreal schools, including Concordia and the Université du Québec à Montréal.

At a TaCEQ conference last Friday, however, the student group decried Courchesne, saying they were “scandalized” by some of her suggestions. This included one assertion that there was a “consensus” among all Quebeckers, except students, that tuition increases were important.

TaCEQ, which counts SSMU and the student associations of the universities of Laval and Sherbrooke as members, sees a significant role for itself in the debate over tuition.

It represents 65,000 students and “two out of the three biggest schools in Quebec,” McGill and Laval, according to Ronderos-Morgan. He indicated that simply by its sheer size, TaCEQ was bound to have some influence.

At its general assembly last December in Quebec City, TaCEQ laid out many of its policies, including those regarding tuition. Ronderos-Morgan says the organization is opposed to any further increase in fees.

Ronderos-Morgan thought TaCEQ will be able to wield significant influence in the student movement though it is a young organization. He pointed to a conference last August, when TaCEQ was only four months old, concerning Quebec’s governance laws – the regulations that dictate how CEGEPs and universities are run. “TaCEQ wrote a briefing on the governance laws,” said Ronderos-Morgan. “[The minister of education] appreciated our contribution,” he added.

SSMU’s VP (External) also indicated that protests were an effective way for student groups to exercise clout. Addressing the relatively small size of yesterday’s demonstration at the Roddick Gates, and the scarcity of information available to students beforehand, Ronderos-Morgan maintained that it had been a success. “I wasn’t looking to have a big turnout,” he said. “We got rid of 300 flyers. We did what we wanted to do.”

Ronderos-Morgan did concede that students could have been given more notice, but said that a SSMU listserv email had been sent out before the event was planned. A QPIRG email circulated to its members concerning the protests was sent out Tuesday evening, less than 24 hours before the demonstration was held.