September 21, 2012
PQ cancels proposed tuition hike in QuebecCLASSE calls for free school
By Giuseppe Valiante, QMI Agency
MONTREAL - The "Maple Spring" might be over, but winter is coming.
The Parti Quebecois said Thursday it cancelled the tuition-fee increases proposed by the previous government that sparked months of protests across the province, dubbed by some the Maple Spring.
However, one student group, CLASSE, wants free tuition, and will hold a protest Saturday in Montreal. Two other large federations said they aren't ruling out more protests if tuition isn't permanently frozen. Moreover, the big question remains: Where will the money come from to finance Quebec universities?
The government said it will hold a summit on education in a few months. While Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is publicly advocating indexing tuition increases to the annual rate of inflation, her party's final decision is unclear. What is clear is that the upcoming summit will pit students, universities and the government against each other to find the money to finance the province's post-secondary education system.
Jeanne Reynolds, spokeswoman for CLASSE, which says it represents 100,000 Quebec students, said Saturday's gathering will be part celebration, part protest.
"The message of the demo is that our efforts have borne fruit but we need to stay mobilized to ensure full, accessible education," she said.
Her group has not yet met with the new education minister, nor has it decided if it will participate in the upcoming education summit.
"The argument that we hear is that free tuition is impossible," she said. "It's not. We estimate it will cost an extra $700 million annually."
She said the money can be found by increasing taxes on financial institutions.
Reynolds said her federation has yet to decide whether its members will continue to march through the streets after Saturday.
But if the members of CLASSE continue to protest, they will be without the other two main student federations in the province.
Martine Desjardins, president of the FEUQ, which says it represents 125,000 students, said she isn't even sure what Saturday's protest is about.
"I don't even know what the theme is," she said. "We don't defend the position of free tuition."
Her federation, along with the FECQ, which says it represents 80,000 students in junior colleges, aren't planning any street protests.
"Right now the government is listening to us," Desjardins said. "So let's talk. We have to use the right means at the right time."
She said the FEUQ and FECQ are confident they can convince the government to freeze tuition at $2,168 a year. If they can't, Desjardins said her group will have to "find other solutions."
The FEUQ and the FECQ said publicly that enough money can be found within existing university budgets to pay for the tuition increase that the former Liberal government proposed.
Daniel Zizian, president of CREPUQ, the association that groups the province's universities, said two studies commissioned by his organization reveal that Quebec universities are underfunded by $620 million compared to other Canadian universities.
He said he has no idea where student leaders got the idea that there are tens of millions of dollars that can be cut from existing university budgets.