Despite widespread student protests, Quebec will go ahead with plans to increase tuition fees, starting this fall. [Kunal Shah]
A major question ahead of Quebec’s March 20 budget was whether the Liberal government would back away from its proposed $1,625 tuition fee hike over five years, with the first increase of $325 to take effect in the 2012 school term.
Ongoing student protests and marches against the planned increase escalated in the lead up to the budget while Premier Jean Charest faced historically low approval ratings.
But the government was uncompromising in its stance, with Finance Minister Raymond Bachand saying “students need to pay their fair share,” in reaffirming the increase in his spring budget.
Student groups were quick to denounce the bad-news budget, vowing to ramp up pressure on the government to reverse course on the increase and provide accessible, affordable higher education in Quebec.
The Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU), an opponent of the tuition increases, said it would have been surprising if the government had decided to back down.
“It is plain the government’s aim, evident in tuition fee increases and talk of private enterprise partnerships and performance contracts, is to accelerate its withdrawal from university funding,” the organization said in a release.
FQPPU said the government should exercise more ingenuity when it comes to university funding plans such as imposing a 28 per cent tax rate on earners with incomes higher than $125,000, instead of saddling students with debt.
According to FQPPU, the cost of eliminating tuition fees in Quebec is less than 1 per cent of 2011–2012 budget revenues.
The faculty union at the University of Montreal (SGPUM) expressed support for student efforts, citing among other factors that Quebec has joined with Canada in endorsing UNESCO’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, which promotes the “progressive introduction of free higher education.”
Other budget measures include funding of 2.5 per cent for universities, which fared slightly better than other parts of the education system where funding was capped at 2 per cent.
But more worrying, says FQPPU, is the budget’s 2 per cent take-away from the province’s research council budgets, a move the organization warns will only further compromise university autonomy as the government forces the sector to seek private funding that will come with strings attached.