News  Students mobilize against tuition hikes

FEUQ and FECQ camp out at Ministry of Education

From May 27 to August 12, two of Quebec’s largest student lobby groups pitched tents in front of the Montreal offices of the Quebec Ministry of Education in protest of planned university tuition hikes.

The Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) budgeted and organized for the camping in order to continue mobilization and action against tuition hikes throughout the summer.

FEUQ president Martine Desjardins described the camping as a demonstration of the strength of student protesters and of their determination to fight tuition hikes.

Tuition has increased $100 a year since 2007. However, this year’s provincial budget, released last March, shows tuition fees increasing by $325 each year from 2012 to 2016. In total, by this date, tuition fees will have increased by 75 per cent as compared to today’s fees.

A CEGEP student at the Collège Ahuntsic, Marc-Olivier Goulet, said he was at the campsite almost every weekend. He described the experience as “awesome,” and said that he would do it again.

“We were trying something different. We’re not all about manifestations and strikes,” he said.

Goulet described a major event that took place at the beginning of the summer. The student federations rented a bulldozer, dressed a participant as Quebec Premier Jean Charest, and bulldozed over graduation caps. The hats had been filled with paint that stained the driveway outside of the Ministry.

The goal of the action was “to show that [Charest is] pretty much killing education,” Goulet explained.

Camping took place on weekends until the last week in August, when students stayed for the entire week. The weekend schedule was created in order to allow for students to participate in the camping action while maintaining other commitments, such as a summer job, explained Léo Bureau-Blouin, president of FECQ. Students would arrive late Friday mornings to pitch three tents that would house between 5 and 15 people throughout the weekend.

The campers did not receive any message or recognition from the Ministry of Education, and Goulet said that they had heard that employees working in the building had been instructed not to speak to them.

“The Ministry of Education isn’t listening to us,” Goulet said. “We’re really talking to a closed door.”

The Ministry did not respond to a request from The Daily for comment.

Benoit Springuel, an IT employee at the Centre de Services Partagés du Québec, which is housed in the same building as the Ministry of Education, said that for him the camp outside the building did not make an impact.

“You know that’s it’s the least expensive tuition in North America? You know that universities are lacking money? $325 each year…that is really not a difficulty,” he said.

Goulet explained, however, that increased tuition would make university education inaccessible for many students.

“I talked to people [from] Lac-Saint-Jean, and there’s no university there. They have to move, pay their apartment,” he said, “and they realize that if they add $1,625 to their bill as well, they won’t be able to pay it.”

Desjardins said FEUQ has evidence that Quebec student enrollment will decrease with higher tuition fees, saying, “There will be a massive dropout.”

The government outlined increased plans for financial aid in order to assist students with paying for education. However, Desjardins explained that a conditionality within the province’s financial aid system means that effects of tuition hikes are not isolated to students. Quebec’s financial aid program obligates families to make financial contributions towards their children’s education if parents earn over $30,000 a year.

“When you hike tuition fees, of course you will be raising student debt, but also family debt,” she said. “We still have to make a lot of progress to find a way to convince the general population that this is an issue that concerns a lot of people and not only students.”

Though the ultimate goal of the student movement is to freeze tuition fees, Desjardins said that the more immediate aim is to dissuade the government from planning more hikes.

FECQ and FEUQ said that raising awareness of the consequences of tuition hikes was one of the main goals of camping out. Desjardins described their work on public education and awareness as a “long-term process.”

CEGEP classes commenced two weeks ago, and both Goulet and Desjardins say that they have noticed a difference in terms of students’ awareness of the impending tuition increases.

“People are really listening to us; it’s not like last year where most of the [new students] didn’t even know about [tuition hikes]. This year, it seems like everyone knows about it and most of them know how much it will be and they know that it’s something they need to work against,” said Goulet.

Desjardins said that she feels the fight against tuition hikes will be one of the main issues during this academic year.

“A lot of students are well-informed about the tuition fee hike plan and they’re ready to [take] actions,” she said.

FEUQ has begun to plan for a demonstration in Montreal to be held on November 10.  The Facebook event had 2,583 attendees when The Daily went to press.