In anticipation of the Quebec government’s upcoming summit on student tuition and higher education, L’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) announced Thursday morning that it will boycott the event later this month.
With the announcement, ASSÉ expressed its concern about the government’s refusal to consider free tuition proposals.
“Instead of fostering a real debate about the role of Quebec universities, [the summit] seeks to build a consensus around the commodification of education,” ASSÉ wrote in French on its website.
In lieu of attendance, ASSÉ is planning a march on the second day of the summit to demand that the government freeze all current tuition hikes and reopen discussion on the abolition of fees.
The announcement comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the Parti Québécois (PQ) government and ASSÉ concerning negotiations around free tuition at the summit.
ASSÉ remains concerned that, prior to the summit, the government has already decided to index tuition fees to inflation and sees the summit as a “public relations operation” rather than a meaningful exchange on education in Quebec.
“It’s going to confirm decisions that have already been taken by this government behind closed doors. We see no other option but to quit the summit in order for ASSÉ not to legitimize it,” Jérémie Bédard-Wien, spokesperson for the group, told The Globe and Mail in an interview Thursday.
ASSÉ represents over 70,000 students and is considered to be the most radical of Quebec’s student unions.
The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), another union representing over 125,000 students, still plans on attending the summit.
“We need to have a debate,” FEUQ President Martine Desjardins told The Daily. “Of course it’s not easy, of course we know that the government is not going in the direction that we want, but still. We have an obligation to last spring and we think we are obligated to be there, for our students.”
FEUQ remains in favour of a tuition freeze. However, Desjardins emphasized the common ground between her association and the government. She said that the government and FEUQ agree on proposals for an independent commission to assess university governance and transparency, improvements to student financial aid programs, and thorough assessments of universities’ financial situations.
While critical of the government’s indexation plan, and its recently announced cuts in university funding, Desjardins criticized the feasibility of free education.
“We don’t judge people that are asking for free education,” she said. “We don’t have any position [for or against] free education, it’s just that we don’t think that, for now, with the public finances that we have, it’s possible.”
She offered no comment on ASSÉ’s decision to boycott.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, former spokesperson of Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) – an alliance of student associations – and staunch supporter of free education, wrote on Thursday that the proposal should not be left off the table.
“No one, not even the ASSÉ, is claiming that free tuition can be established in two days,” he wrote on rabble.ca. “But can we not think of a plan for gradually reducing fees, even if it means in the short run opting for a freeze as a transitional step?”
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois told the press on Thursday that ASSÉ members “are depriving themselves of a place to speak.”
“It’s a shame but that is their choice and I respect it,” she said.
The government remains opposed to free education.
In a press conference on Friday, the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ), an organization that regroups the administrations of universities across the province, said that it would “refuse to be associated with a solution that will not lead to increased funding [for universities].”