In a press release last Thursday, the Ministry of Education announced that the Rencontres des partenaires de l’éducation – an annual meeting of student groups, administrators, and provincial politicians – will be held on December 6. Student lobby groups are complaining that the proposed date, which falls during exams at many schools, is inconvenient and will prevent them from attending, either as picketers or participants.
The agenda for the Rencontres lays out, in French, three themes for the meeting: what “principles” to pursue in raising tuition; how to direct financial aid to maintain accessibility to education; and what to do with the “additional revenue” gained by raising tuition.
All of the major provincial student lobby groups have been expecting the government to table plans for tuition increases at the meeting, and some students are boycotting the event.
SSMU VP External Myriam Zaidi suggested that the Ministry was aware that the date comes at a busy time for students, saying that the “minister of education definitely knew that students were planning on going and demonstrating during the meeting,” and that the timing of the Rencontres “makes it harder for students to go protest during the meeting.”
Joël Pedneault, Vice-Secretary General of the Quebec Students Roundtable (QSR), echoed Zaidi’s sentiment and added that the lack of time students have been given to prepare for the Rencontres is an indication of the Ministry’s disregard for student opinion.
“What we think is deplorable about the timing of the meeting is that it doesn’t give students a lot of time to prepare for it,” he said. “The Ministry hasn’t even announced what will be said at the meeting, and they’re only giving us a day to discuss the issues. To properly discuss these issues in a democratic forum we would need more than a day.”
Louis-Philipe Savoie, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), said he was skeptical that the Rencontres would serve as a venue for student consultation. He noted that the ministry is already committed to raising tuition, as first stated in the March 30 budget. But Savoie reaffirmed FEUQ’s intention to attend the meeting.
“Since 2007, the Fédération has asked the Ministry of Education for a wide-ranging consultation on every issue that concerns university education. However, with today’s announcement, we must say that our demands have not been met,” he said.
The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) will proceed with plans to boycott the Rencontres and picket outside the meeting in hopes of preventing negotiations from taking place. ASSÉ’s Secretary of Coordination, Élise Carrier-Martin, said that the organization plans to call for a student strike on December 6, in hopes of avoiding scheduling conflicts between exams and the Rencontres.
She told The Daily in French, “It’s clear that the Ministry chose that date, knowing that it was during exams in order to make it harder for students and ASSÉ members to turn up and make sure the meeting isn’t held. We already decided that we would vote for a day of strike on December 6 so as to not prevent people with exams from attending the protest.”
On October 17, ASSÉ reported on their website that a government official had leaked the Ministry’s plans for raising tuition, which were to be revealed publicly at the Rencontres. The alleged plans showed that the government is considering raising tuition to the Canadian average – $5,138 for undergraduates and $5,182 for graduates – over four years. The ministry has denied that ASSÉ’s numbers are accurate.
Despite the Rencontres’s controversial timing, Carrier-Martin believes that many students will turn up to demonstrate against tuition increases.
“A lot of students are so furious about the Ministry’s attempts to increase tuition to the national average that they will be motivated to mobilize and demonstrate. We want to send a clear message to the Quebec government and to the general population that there was absolutely no consensus among students for tuition increases,” she said.