At Least You’re Not From Ontario

Give me a break.

That’s what students across Quebec have been telling the provincial government about tuition fees. On March 31, thousands of Quebec CEGEP and university students took to the streets in the latest of a string of protests against tuition hikes.

Okay, I get it—tuition’s going up. But even better than a break, students here could use some perspective and an Ontarian to tell them how good they have it.

Tuition in la belle province has been frozen for 33 out of the last 43 years, but has risen from an average of $1,932 in 2006-07 to $2,415 this year, according to Statistics Canada. Still, Quebec students enjoy the lowest tuition rates in Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador is second).

In Ottawa, where I’m from, students paid an average of $6,307 for tuition this year. Ouch. But even in Quebec, an Ontarian can barely catch a break. As an out-of-province student, I paid $5,630 for my classes this year in the graduate journalism program.

Thanks to Concordia’s nifty new tuition fee calculator, I can have fun finding out that next year, someone like me will pay 2.7 times what a Quebec student will pay. And don’t even ask what other international students—Americans, for instance—will pay. This year, an American friend of mine paid over $19,000 in tuition and fees. Enough said.

And now tuition is going up again. It’s rising by $325 per year for the next five years, bringing Quebec tuition to an average of $4,040 by 2016. Quebec students are up in arms. I hope they’re also chanting for the out-of-province folk and the 4,700 international students at Concordia.

So how can students cope, regardless of where they’re from? Cooperation. More specifically, cooperative education, or what’s known as co-op. Aside from entrance scholarships that may be difficult to keep because of the grade requirements, co-op is probably the best way to get through school debt-free. It’s the reason I was able to pay for my own undergraduate education in expensive Ontario.

Basically, the university teams up with employers to offer paid and relevant employment to students in a wide range of fields. Once you start, work terms alternate with study terms and allow you to focus on school during a study term. It’s also a foot in the door for a job later on. Unfortunately, Concordia only has about 1,200 spots available for a program that’s been around since 1980. Add an increase in co-op spots to your list of demands.

And here’s a warning: if you have a loan, pay it off as soon as you can. Quebecers benefit from a six-month low-interest grace period when they graduate, which sits at 3.5 per cent right now. But even though the current interest rate is relatively low, by the time students have finished the 10-year repayment period, they’ll have paid double the amount originally borrowed thanks to interest.

So keep up the protests, I say, but also keep some perspective, and maybe most importantly, fight for a say in where your tuition fees end up—and that might be the biggest break of all.