Students at four francophone universities – Université du Québec à Montréal, the Université Laval, the Université de Montréal, and the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi – staged sit-ins at their rector’s offices on Wednesday, January 19 to express their anger over prospective provincial tuition increases.
The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiant (ASSÉ) called for the occupations to protest what they regard as administrators’ compliance with the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ) proposal to increase tuition in Quebec by $500 a year for three years, beginning in 2012.
Maxime Larue-Bourdages, the Internal Coordinator of ASSÉ, elaborated on the motivations behind the sit-ins.
“We find it very hypocritical that [the Ministry of Education] now says that tuition has to increase for students when university administration’s prefer to put their money in construction, rather than students, who are the life of the university. Year after year members of the administration give themselves higher salaries and bonuses, and they take that money from students,” he said.
ASSÉ’s official press release echoed these sentiments in French: “On the one hand, the rectors of universities get paid exorbitant salaries, and divert public funds to megalomaniacal real estate projects, while simultaneously complaining of being underfunded to advocate for a dizzying increase in tuition. We are not fooled by their hypocrisy!”
Students at Université du Québec à Montréal succeeded in blocking off all administrative buildings, preventing rector Claude Corbo from entering his office for the remainder of the afternoon, and prompting him to cancel all his planned activities for the week.
Jaouad Laaroussi, a UQAM student present at the sit-in, made his demands clear in the ASSÉ press release.
“How dare our president demand an increase in tuition when it is his direction that is plunging UQAM into financial distress?” he wrote.
At the Université de Montréal, students blocked off the administrative area, occupyed rector Guy Breton’s office, and hung banners denouncing Breton’s support of tuition increases. “If Mr. Breton left his office more often, he would see the reality for students. We don’t earn $365,00 a year!” said Héloïse Lanouette, a student at UdeM, in the ASSÉ press release.
SSMU maintains communication with ASSÉ but does not have official membership within the student association, which is renowned for its more radical approach to mobilization against planned tuition hikes.
SSMU created its own Mobilization Committee last January, which is starting to gain momentum, according to VP External Myriam Zaidi, who explained the differences between the ASSÉ approach to protesting and the Mobilization Committee’s methods of raising awareness about tuition increases.
“When you’re mobilizing at McGill you have to start from scratch. Here people don’t follow Quebec politics. The ASSÉ are more radical, but [the Mobilization Committee] is hoping to get students at McGill who want to mobilize together, and when that gets going we can talk about actions. It started with a delay, but I’m very optimistic about the future,” she said.
Larue-Bourdages also expressed his optimism about the future of the student movements against tuition increases.
“Historically speaking, student mobilization has almost always been successful for students. The only time they don’t get what they want is when they don’t mobilize, don’t strike, and don’t put more pressure on the administration. I hope that the student movement will take mobilization seriously, because if they do, I think we will win.”
Representatives from Corbo’s office failed to reply to the Daily’s calls.