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Quebec government offers concessions to striking students

Student associations unlikely to accept new student aid plan

Quebec Minister of Education Line Beauchamp unveiled a new student aid plan Thursday morning, aimed at appeasing the almost 180,000 students currently on strike across the province.

Since the proposal does not address the government’s planned five-year $1,625 increase in tuition fees, however, some student associations believe the offer is unlikely to end the strike. The strike has been ongoing for over six weeks.

SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault said student associations in Quebec have laid “a pretty clear groundwork” for negotiations with the government – that the government agree to freeze tuition fees, if not eliminate them entirely.

“That whole spectrum of possibilities has just been excluded by the government,” said Pedneault.

“The sense that I’m getting from student organizations in Quebec is that this is not an interesting offer,” he continued.

The government’s new plan would extend student bursaries and allow students with an annual family income over $60,000 to borrow under the aid program.

Pedneault said the proposal “in absolute terms isn’t a bad thing, but I would hesitate to even call the proposal the government made this morning a step forward.”

“It will allow more people to be in debt, but that’s precisely what people are concerned about right now when talking about the tuition increase,” said Pedneault.

The plan also calls for the repayment of student loans proportionate to the income of graduates.

Pedneault said the second proposal has been floated in the past.

“People have been preparing for this eventuality for years at this point, and many student associations have positions specifically against what the government just proposed,” he said.

The changes in student aid would cost a reported $21 million over five years, with the money coming from provincial grants to Quebec universities.

The planned tuition increases would almost double Quebec fees, but they would still remain below the Canadian average.

Beauchamp told reporters in Quebec City on Thursday morning that the plan would be “a gain for many students and their families,” according to the Montreal Gazette.

“The government of Quebec is firm and convinced that students should pay their fair share,” Beauchamp told reporters.

“The debate now is in the student community,” she continued.

Pedneault said that he hoped the student movement continues to demand reforms that “actually concretely reduce the debt loads that students face.”

“The gap between demands of many student associations and what the government offered this morning is still very, very big,” continued Pedneault. “The strength of the current movement is that it’s very impervious to this kind of semi-offer.”

Pedneault predicted a new offer from the government could be forthcoming. According to Pedneault, if student strikes at CEGEPs continue to next Tuesday, the government will have to reopen collective agreements with professors in light of a possible extended or cancelled semester. The current collective agreement allows CEGEP professors two months’ vacation during the summer, according to Pedneault.

Reworking those agreements would “be a massive jigsaw puzzle,” said Pedneault.

“So the government better make another type of offer very soon, since I don’t see many student associations budging from what was offered,” he added.