SSMU Holds Tuition Hike Summit

  • Photo Pierre Chauvin

The Student Society of McGill University hosted an open forum on Friday to strategize against Quebec’s proposed tuition hikes.

Ideas which were favoured during the five-hour meeting included grassroots campaigning, a unification of efforts between French and English institutions and fighting misinformation.

“There are a lot of students that are not only uninformed, but misinformed. […] We need to educate ourselves and disseminate the information to make it understandable, and known,” said one attendee.

A popular piece of information touted by the government is that the $1625 increase in students’ yearly tuition would give Quebec’s universities the money needed to offer a better education.

This is pure fiction, argues l’Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques in a booklet handed out at the meeting.

“The tuition hikes announced in the most recent Quebec budget are not intended to fill university coffers, but rather to alter the way they are funded. The goal is to shift an increasing amount of university funding to individuals and the private sector.”

According to one organizer, it’s not just the government that is behind the misinformation campaign for higher tuition, but the schools themselves.

“Our administrators at the school have been providing us information which is, for the most part, false. They’ve been rationalizing their actions in ways which are inappropriate,” said Ethan Feldman, an organizer with the Mob Squad, a group spearheaded by McGill undergraduates to mobilize around tuition increases.

The not-for-profit research group also notes that universities may be suffering financially, but not due to underfunding. Quebec universities are “victims of an improper use of funding, or a misallocation of resources.”

Adding to the student society’s struggle with misinformation is the issue of how to reach a student body jaded to conventional methods of outreach, such as flyering.

Suggestions included forming small groups where students can meet and exchange information, “rez-inars” where older students enter the first-year residences and hold seminars on the issue, and a campaign of action like the red balloon drop at Concordia to “connect a visual statement with the information.”

Also mentioned were plans to coordinate with teachers to have union representatives speak before lecture classes, and intermingling the student associations on both sides of the language divide so that the English universities can feel connected to the much larger francophone movement.

Beyond just Quebec students, the forum brainstormed on reaching out to other communities.

One group often directly affected by the rising cost of education is parents, and creating a chain email to be circulated among current and future university students’ parents would help broaden support.

There was also a call to forge connections with other universities nationally and internationally as austerity measures threaten access to education around the globe.

“This is happening everywhere, in Chile, the UK, the U.S., and people haven’t been talking to each other across borders. It’s a big struggle our generation is in,” said Joël Pedneault, the SSMU VP External Affairs.

But a falling-out between the student unions in 2005 means that reaching across borders may be one initiative beyond the scope of the current movement, where the focus is on a more grassroots effort.
“The student movement is now in a state of recomposition. It’s more unmilitant, organized democratically, more grassroots,” Pedneault added.

A representative for UQAM who briefly attended the meeting announced a demonstration against the hikes that is being held Oct. 4 in Square St-Louis at 12:45 p.m. and is open to all students.

For more information from SSMU on the tuition hikes, visit tuitiontruth.ca

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