News  ASSÉ reports leaked government tuition plan

Liberals deny everything in run-up to yearly meeting on education policy

The ministry of education will present students with three scenarios for tuition hikes – big, bigger, and staggered-by-program – this November, according to information obtained by a Quebec student lobby group.

The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), which represents 40,000 students in Quebec, released a statement Sunday saying they had their hands on specific plans for tuition increases for in-province students. Tuition may more than double in 2012, according to one of the options published by ASSÉ, and the three scenarios the ministry allegedly plans to present to students in November each involve raising tuition on Quebec residents.

Phillipe Ethier, ASSÉ Secretary of Internal Affairs, told The Daily in French that the leak comes from “a ministerial source,” who Ethier believed to be “fairly credible,” though ASSÉ is not “100 per cent sure” of the information’s accuracy.

According to Philippe Verreault- Julien, Secretary-General of the Quebec Students Roundtable (QSR), the Ministry of Education, Sports and Leisure (MELS) has denied the reports, telling representatives from QSR that ASSÉ’s numbers were “without foundation.”

ASSÉ expects the ministry to officially table their tuition plans in November at the annual Rencontre des partenaires de l’éducation. A precise date has not been set and no student organization has yet been invited to the event.

The government’s first alleged option would raise tuition by $500 a year for three years, until it had reached eighty per cent of the national average, leaving it at roughly $4,110, up from the current $2,415. According to Statistics Canada, the national average currently stands at $5,138 for undergraduates and $5,182 for graduates.

The second option has tuition jumping to the Canadian average over four years, beginning in 2012. This would more than double the current rate and constitute an increase of about $680 per year. The third option is to have different tuition rates for different academic programs.

“All three cases would be catastrophic,” said Ethier.

Ethier also charged that the third option, while less specific, could see steep tuition hikes. “You can think of what happened at McGill with the increase in tuition on its MBA program,” he said, referring to this summer’s spike in tuition from $1,700 for in-province students to $32,500.

ASSÉ has been planning to picket the Rencontre since September, calling for an all-student boycott of the meeting in a September 24 press release. The group is also staging a protest against the meeting at one o’clock today at carée Berri-UQAM.

“This meeting is a mechanism to give legitimacy to their tuition hike,” Ethier said. “We refuse to play their game…we will be in the streets, not inside.”

QSR is planning to attend the November meeting. Verreault- Julien said in French that “we [QSR] believe that we have a constructive contribution to make to the discussion.”

“The information published by ASSÉ has only contributed to the mystery surrounding the meeting,” he added. MELS assured Verreault- Julien that ASSÉ’s numbers were baseless.

He declined to state whether or not he thought ASSÉ’s report was accurate, but said the three scenarios it outlined were “unacceptable.”

Verreault- Julien said he fears that, whatever the government proposes, the Rencontre will be a one-sided affair.

“At the moment, there is every indication that the meeting is not a real consultation,” he said.

Verreault- Julien said the government should be “rapidly revealing their intentions publicly,” regarding tuition. “It’s important that [their plans are] public,” said Verreault- Julien. “The government needs to show that it’s listening to students.”

In an interview with The Daily, Marie Malavoy, Parti Québécois (PQ) MNA and member of the Culture and Education committee, said she needed more information before being able to comment on the veracity of ASSÉ’s report.

She said one of the scenarios was being considered within the Liberal government, however. “I am sure that that’s up for discussion, the modulation of tuition” between academic programs, she said in French.

“I’m not comfortable with that, the Parti Québécois is not comfortable with that,” she added.

Citing the example of McGill’s MBA program, Malavoy continued, “We can’t just ask what this [tuition modulation] means for cost, but what it means for student debt.”

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) president Louis-Phillipe Savoie said that while the MELS has denied ASSÉ’s figures to FEUQ, too, he fears they may be more or less accurate.

“We don’t know if we can rely on those numbers,” he said, adding, however, “As far as we know the Liberal party’s position is to reach the Canadian average [of tuition], …until we see any other signal.”

Savoie said that they “don’t believe in the empty chair policy,” and that FEUQ plans on attending the Rencontre. However, he said the three scenarios outlined in ASSÉ’s report “go from insane to ridiculous.”

Education minister Line Beauchamp’s office did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

François Carbonneau, VP External of the Confédération des associations étudiants et étudiantes de l’Université Laval (CADEUL), a QSR member association, said that the alleged government proposals did not come as a surprise to him.

“They had talked a lot about the Canadian average and modulation of fees, so there wasn’t much that surprised us,” he said in French.

Carbonneau also said that he understood why ASSÉ was boycotting the meeting, but that CADEUL was attending.

“We’re going because, despite everything, we want to go to gather information,” he said.