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McGill and Concordia on Strike

Students protest tuition increases

On October 13, the Quebec government announced a tuition increase for Canadian and international students outside of Quebec for undergraduate programs, non-research and professional master’s programs starting in the 2024-2025 academic year. Initially, the tuition was going to increase from $8,992 to around $17,000 per year, almost double the initial tuition price. The higher tuition fees were put in place as a way for the Quebec government to collect more money to give back to French universities. Additionally, the increase in tuition was put in place as a means to protect the French language in Montreal. Later in the year, on December 14, the Quebec Government revealed changes to the tuition hike plans, reducing the increase to $12,000 instead of the initial $17,000. Despite its slight modification, the Quebec Government still faces backlash for the tuition increase, particularly from students at McGill and Concordia.

From January 31 through February 22, student associations at McGill and Concordia went on strike to fight back against the tuition hike. At McGill, the Geography; Religious Studies; and Sustainability, Science, and Society student associations went on strike, accumulating around 500 students according to McGill Undergraduate Geography Society (MUGS) co-president Emma Reddy. Concordia University’s strike saw around 12 student associations in attendance. During the striking period, many classes were cancelled, and those still held were often empty as students chose to miss class.

Prior to the striking days, SSMU and the Concordia Student Union (CSU) had a week of mobilization to prepare for the strike. On January 29, between 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., a banner and sign making workshop was held for students at the Hall Building on Concordia University’s campus. The following day, on January 30, there was a “Picketing 101 Workshop” from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., to prepare students for picketing their classes in the following days. Later that evening, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., a “Revolutionary Solidarity Workshop” was held at Le Frigo Vert as part of the CSU’s “Get Radical,” series of community organizing workshops. During strike days, numerous workshops and screenings were put in place around the Concordia and McGill university campuses.

As the co-president of MUGS, Reddy took initiative to allow the Geography Department to strike at McGill University. She was approached by students in the Faculty of Geography on January 18 to discuss a possibility of a strike. On January 23, a general assembly was held to vote on a strike date, but there weren’t enough students present to hold a vote. On January 29, a second general assembly was held, and the motion to strike passed with many more students joining the vote.

“The purpose of the strike is to raise awareness about the tuition increase that the Government of Quebec is applying to future university students that wish to study in Quebec,” said Reddy. “Although this was a small strike, we hope to build momentum and visibility for other departments at McGill University to join in other strikes later in the year.”

After the recent tuition strike, there are talks of another strike that may occur in March, alongside the beginning of a social media campaign to continue fighting against the government’s tuition hike beginning next fall. On February 15, SSMU held a meeting to discuss the future of the fight against the tuition hike.

Ever since the strike, there have been many government officials who have spoken on the tuition hike and have shared their opinions on Legault’s decisions, one of them being Valerie Plante, the mayor of Montreal. During an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Plante revealed her concerns and opinions on the tuition increase.

“At this point, I think we need to keep in mind that though the government of Quebec decided to let go on their projects for Bishop’s University, which is in the Eastern Townships, it remains for the universities in Montreal. Why is it so?” Plante said. Bishop’s University has been excluded from the tuition increase, which has raised a lot of confusion amongst Montrealers.

“Anglophone universities contribute to society and they contribute to the entire university ecosystem whether it’s a francophone or anglophone university. So for me, I want the Government of Quebec to share with us why it’s okay for Bishop University not to have those rules and why it remains for the universities like McGill and Concordia, internationally known institutions. Why do they have to follow those lines?” Plante argued.

As the Fall 2024 semester is approaching, the new tuition guidelines are set to be soon implemented. Despite opposition from students and government officials, the future of anglophone universities’ tuition rates remain uncertain.