At their most recent congress in Sutton, Quebec, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Quebec (FEUQ) adopted a proposal from the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) concerning supplementary tuition fees, as well as another PGSS-initiated campaign regarding health care for international students. The province’s largest student federation will launch campaigns to pressure the provincial and federal governments into accepting these proposals.
The first motion aims to restructure the distribution of international students’ supplementary tuition fees. At the moment, $13,000 – a portion of the fees paid – is forwarded to the government, which then redistributes the money indiscriminately throughout the province’s university system.
In order to help overcome this system – disadvantageous to the international students who often pay more but receive no extra benefits – the FEUQ resolved to adopt a policy to direct a portion of international students’ tuition fees directly to the universities that these students attend, where it would fund support programs for these students.
Jonathan Mooney, Secretary-General of PGSS, said in the congress’s press release that the society is “delighted that the FEUQ will be advocating for the improvement of funding to essential services for international students and ensure these students get more value from the fees they pay.”
The second proposal, made in collaboration with the Association des Étudiants de Polytechnique, aims to reduce the cost of international student health care. Students from overseas are legally obliged to purchase private insurance. Premiums have skyrocketed after a recent government directive led hospitals to charge international students three times the standard Quebec health insurance system (RAMQ) rate.
The student federation has now resolved to officially develop a campaign to increase the affordability of their health insurance. According to PGSS External Affairs Officer Navid Khosravi-Hashemi in an email to the Daily, “The FEUQ will now launch a major campaign to pressure the government to stop triple-charging foreign students for essential medical services.”
FEUQ President Antoine Genest-Grégoire added in an email to The Daily, that the federation will “advocate in favour of the free choice of the international students,” so that they can adapt their needs to one adequate plan rather than several plans that may overlap in their coverage.
It remains to be seen, however, if these resolutions will be translated into practical action. The present plan of action regarding health care is still in its very early stages, and both proposals have yet to be approved by the Quebec government.
Genest-Grégoire noted that any change will not be “overnight,” as the federation has to lobby three ministers on the provincial and federal levels. Yet Khosravi-Hashemi remains optimistic.
“The FEUQ has been very successful in the past in influencing government policy, including the adoption of a policy allowing international students to work off-campus under certain circumstances,” he said.
He added that the likelihood of an imminent Quebec election, with its greater opportunities for political dialogue, will also play in their favour.
There is also a risk that recent government budget cuts could impede the implementation of these proposals. Khosravi-Hashemi agreed that austere financial conditions “exacerbate the vulnerable conditions faced by international students by compressing the budget used at McGill.”
Genest-Grégoire added that while they affect the entire province, budget cuts are applied locally. It is up to each university to decide how best to allocate their budget, and they retain that initiative in time of cuts.
Taking the example of Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, where the FEUQ is fighting the administration’s decision to withdraw mental health services to students, Genest-Grégoire affirmed that, should a similar situation happen at McGill, “the FEUQ would be there to help students win.”