Representatives of four provincial student lobbying groups met Wednesday to lead a panel discussion about the future of funding for Quebec universities and the unity, or lack of unity, of the student movement in Quebec. The four groups present were the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), the Quebec Student Roundtable (QSR), the Federation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), and Free Education Montreal (FEM).
The main issue up for discussion was the upcoming Quebec tuition defreeze, which will take place in 2012. All four groups expressed strong opposition to raising Quebec tuititon, and drew a connection between education and freedom. “Most countries know that education is the basis of their social contract and their society,” said Robert Sonin, the representative from FEM. “The more education you have, the better the country. The more education you have, the lower your crime rates. The better education you have, the higher your incomes. So to put a block in the way of that impedes people’s freedoms.”
Louis-Philippe Savoie, the president of FEUQ, agreed. “Universities are a very smart public investment . … it would be shooting ourselves in the foot, as a society, to reduce access to universities.”
Although all groups were in agreement over key points regarding tuition increases, the discussion also centred around the groups’ differences, and whether Quebec’s student movement is, or even ought to be, united. “If there is a unity to be built, it has to be built on a common basis which has to be either material, ideological, or both,” said ASSÉ representative Martin Robert. “What we can see right now is that that basis is not quite there.”
The issue of a unified student activist movement is particularly relevant for McGill students, as SSMU is affiliated with QSR and PGSS is a member of FEUQ. However, Sonin is confident that, with regards to tuition at least, the groups will be working together in the future. “In times when there isn’t such a big issue, student associations should disagree…when we have to fight a battle like this, it’s time to put those things aside.”
The groups are also confident of the support of the student body in Quebec. QSR vice-secretary general Joël Pedneault drew a parallel between the support he expects for the fight against tuition increases and the support shown recently at McGill for the Architecture Café.
“To me, that shows that people do care about issues related to universities and university settings. It’s just a question of informing people enough that they can link different issues together,” he said.
Moderator Erik Chevrier linked the issues of university funding in Quebec to other situations in Canada. “If we look at the financing of two major events that have happened – the G20 and the Olympics – had close to three billion dollars of security costs,” he said. “So when you talk about not being able to fund public services, maybe we’re just putting it in the wrong place.”
All of the panelists were called upon to explain their organizations’ policy proposals for funding universies without raising tuition; the solutions ranged from philanthropy to payroll taxes but ultimately, said Sonin, the question is one of priorities.
“The question here is not only one of where the money is going to come from. We have the money. Look around you. We are living in a very rich country, and we have the money to fund what we want to fund. So the question is, are you going to fund…things that contribute to an individualization of people…or are you going to fund things that we can do together?”