News  Government will not consider free education at summit

McGill principal calls summit on higher education a “farce”

Less than a month before the government’s summit on higher education, Pierre Duchesne, the minister of higher education, reiterated yesterday the Parti Québécois’ opposition to free education. The government would not bar students from broaching the topic at the summit, but it was “obvious” that the government “could not afford free education,” he said.

“If they want to discuss different subjects, such as free education, they can submit documents and studies,” Duchesne told reporters in French. “We even have an internet page where people can submit documents.”

The remarks from the minister came days after the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) issued an ultimatum that called for Duchesne to recognize free education as a “viable option.”

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Jérémie Bédard-Wien, a spokesperson for ASSÉ, said that the group was not satisfied with the minister’s announcement and reiterated that the association would withdraw from the summit if free education was not seriously considered as an option.

“If we demonstrate the viability of free education and its social necessity, will the government hear our proposal?” he said in French. “By excluding ASSÉ, they would exclude a position that is defended by a large portion of those attending the summit.”

“More than half of those attending defend a tuition freeze, a reduction of fees, or free education,” he added.

However, in an interview with The Daily, Éliane Laberge, president of the Federation étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) said it was important for the summit’s actors to “understand that no process is perfect” and that it was up to them to ensure that the conference was as “conclusive and as productive as possible.”

“We have to be there, because if we’re not there, students won’t be heard and their condition won’t be bettered,” Laberge said in French. “It’s true the government could be more attentive by considering, maybe not free education, but a tuition freeze, which is a position put forward by a number of actors at the summit.”

“We’ll wait before the morning of the summit before deciding whether or not the process is viable,” she added.

Skepticism toward the summit was also expressed this week by members of the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ), an organization that represents the administrations of universities across the province.

McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum told Le Devoir on Wednesday that the conference was a “farce” and was “so choreographed” as to preclude debate.

“There is one person from the Quebec Council of Employers, but they don’t have a formal voice. And the rectors have to sit and listen to someone telling us how to manage our universities,” she said in French.

“At Sherbrooke University, a teacher from Senegal compared our educational system to the Senegalese system from twenty years ago. What do we think of that?” she added.

According to Munroe-Blum, universities such as McGill and the Université de Montréal should receive more money from the government because of their commitment to research. Tuition should also vary depending on the program of study, she said.