In Quebec, we have very low University tuition. It costs about $1600 a semester to go to school, which is the lowest tuition price in Canada. The Quebec government, for those who don’t know, has decided to raise tuition fees from about $1600 to $3793 a semester; Quebec would remain the province with the lowest tuition in Canada. What’s the price of the tuition increase? About 30 thousand students who won’t be able to afford a university education.
At 1pm today, I began walking down McGill College avenue with a group of other McGill students protesting the tuition hikes. We shouted, we carried signs, and we took pictures and videos. A police escort led us to Saint Catherine street, where we met up with several hundred Concordia students, and began our march down Ste Catherine street toward the UQAM campus. The protest was mostly organized by the French universities, but the English universities joined in to fight against our common problem: tuition hikes that will make education too expensive for an entire university’s worth of students.
My take on the issue is this: doubling our tuition over the next five years doesn’t seem that drastic in comparison with tuition fees across Canada and in the US. In fact, it seems reasonable during hard economic times, right? But not when you consider the reason the government subsidizes education in the first place: because an educated population creates a better economy. The more available education is, the better the economy will be, because there will be more people innovating, creating better products, solving problems, and pouring money and talent into the community. When you consider that fact, raising tuition prices doesn’t make much sense at all. In fact, it makes more sense to lower tuition prices even further. We shouldn’t be striving to achieve everyone else’s status quo, we should lead by example and keep our tuition prices low. Daniel Zinian, the president and director general of the Conférence des Recteurs et des Principaux des Universités du Québec, was quoted in the Montreal Gazette as saying: “We believe the people who benefit from universities should contribute to their financing…” I agree! The public benefits from university education because educated people create jobs. Education is the last thing that should suffer during an economic crisis; why does it seem that education is always the first thing to go?
After a brief rally at UQAM, the massive group of between 15 and 30 thousand students, faculty members, parents, and others who were incensed about the issue marched toward Jean Charest’s office to protest in front of it. I left the crowd at about 3:30 for a meeting on McGill campus, and as I left, I watched the seemingly endless mass of people pouring through the city behind me.
When I left the Arts Building to see what was going on – specifically why I heard the sound of a helicopter outside – I was informed that I couldn’t go back into the building, despite the fact that my raincoat and bag were still inside (not to mention that a group of my friends were still there, and had not been informed that the building was closed.) Fortunately I had left my blood glucose meter inside, and the security guard let me back in to get it. Some students had entered the James administration building shortly before, and the campus felt tense. As I left (with my bag and raincoat this time) I saw around twenty riot police marching in formation from one side of the campus to the other, and a group of mounted police blocking the Milton street entrance. Apparently the protest hadn’t become violent except for a few individuals, but there were a few beatings and some people got maced. I’ll keep my opinions to myself and leave it to people who were actually there to comment on whether the police and/or students were acting appropriately.
We’re living in bizarre, exciting, scary times. People are fed up with the state of things, and they aren’t willing to take it much longer. Throughout the strike, a thought was lurking in the back of my mind: the economy is bad for everyone, and this protest was the students refusing to pay for other people’s mistakes. We didn’t create this economic crisis – most of us were in high school when the seeds of the recession began to sprout – so why should we have to pay for the consequences? The simple answer is that we shouldn’t.