The Quebec government is not backing down on the tuition fee increase it laid out last year, according the 2012-13 provincial budget presented by Finance Minister Raymond Bachand yesterday in the National Assembly.
Last year’s budget revealed the plan for the incremental five-year, $1,625 tuition increase, sparking province-wide student mobilization that has led to almost 200,000 Quebec students joining an unlimited general strike this spring in protest of the hike. The plan also included a 25 per cent increase in overall university revenue through increases in tuition, government spending, and efforts to seek out more donations and sources of funding.
Bachand is aiming to balance Quebec’s budget next year. SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault said he wasn’t surprised by the contents of this year’s budget.
“The big surprises, the big sort of sea changes, have already happened. The government is just kind of staying the course,” said Pedneault.
He added that few in the Quebec student movement expected the government to make concession in the budget.
“If they are going to start making concessions, it will probably be next week or the week after, when a strike will have started to last for six weeks,” he said.
According to the budget, the tuition hike will result in a $95 million increase in student contribution, in the form of tuition fees, to Quebec university funding. By the end of the hikes in 2017, the student contribution will have jumped from 12.9 per cent in 2009 to 17 per cent.
Bachand told the National Assembly yesterday that it was “reasonable for a student to assume 17 per cent of the cost of his or her education.”
Spending by the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport is also budgeted to increase by 2.2 per cent to just under $16 billion.
Pedneault noted how the budget has made no provision regarding tuition fees for international or out-of-province students. According to Pedneault, the government committed in last year’s budget to consult with student associations about fees for out-of-province and international students. Pedneault said these consultations never took place.
Pedneault explained that, since tuition fees are set by the government, they could give very little warning before deciding to re-regulate or de-regulate international and out-of-province fees.
“It’s very much possible that students will know at the last minute if their fees are going up, or by how much,” said Pedneault.
Pedneault noted the Quebec government’s recent deregulation of international tuition fees in some university programs. At McGill, international tuition for Law, Engineering, Management, and Science is deregulated.
“The government just hasn’t made any indication of what their intentions are, which is not surprising, but also dishonest given the commitments they made exactly a year ago,” he continued.
Pedneault said it was possible the government wants to keep the international and out-of-province tuition issue as a “bargaining chip in eventual negotiations.”
“They might hope to play students off against each other by maybe negotiating a tuition freeze or less of a tuition increase in exchange for a tuition increase for out-of-province and international students,” said Pedneault.
McGill released a press release last night addressing the budget announcement. The majority of the press release praised the new budget for dedicating $35 million for the restoration of Wilson Hall, which was built over a century ago, and houses the Schools of Nursing and Social Work.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum stated in the press release that McGill was “glad to see” the government investment in the restoration.
“Our ability to fulfill our mission with respect to our development of professionals, teaching and research is severely handicapped by the state of many of our facilities,” said Munroe-Blum in the press release.
“By supporting the restoration of Wilson Hall, the government is taking an important first step in addressing this threat to our University’s ability to continue to offer training programs that have a direct contribution to the health and well-being of Quebecers,” she continued.
The press release did not reference the tuition increases specifically. Munroe-Blum commended Bachand “for his commitment to eliminating the deficit, controlling spending, and for his continued reinvestment in universities.”
Ultimately, Pedneault said he read the budget as a “pre-electoral budget.”
“The government is just playing its cards” in advance of a possible provincial election this year, he said.
“A lot of the new measures that were introduced have to do with older folks, which is fine, but it is telling. The Liberal Party’s electorate is typically older, typically wealthier, so the measures that they introduced will probably be helping them first,” he continued.
In an interview with the Canadian University Press (CUP), Martine Desjardins, president of the Federation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), said it was “very frustrating that the government is not listening to the next generation.”
“We’re very frustrated to see that the government right now is [seeing] students as second-class citizens,” continued Desjardins.
There are no “user fees” or taxes announced for this year’s budget. The government also announced that they will collect higher royalties – roughly $1.2 billion – from natural resources like mines, forests and water.
The budget sets to invest $1 billion in Plan Nord, an increase from $550 million. “The Plan Nord is taking shape,” Bachand told the National Assembly.