Misdirected Anger

Tuition Hikes Should Be Used, Not Fought Against

Photo Sam Slotnick

The fight against tuition hikes has been a constant in the life of every Quebec university student for the last few years.

Since 2007, when the tuition freeze ended, the government has attempted to raise tuition on multiple occasions—and the students have fought back every single time.

It seems that there is almost no student voice in agreement with the tuition hike, or at least there hasn’t been in the popular media and university newspapers. But I believe that the fight against tuition hikes is misguided.
Universities all over Quebec are in dire need of money. The level of education provided by our universities is directly affected by lack of funding, yet we refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the room: right now tuition is simply too low.

Concordia is already seeing the flip side of underfunding. Everyday we lose professors to other universities with better funding for research and facilities. If we aren’t capable of attracting the best of the best because they are receiving better offers elsewhere, what does that say about the level of education we are receiving now? And what does it says about the prospect of our future education?

Our buildings are crumbling (with the exception of the new John Molson and Engineering buildings—thank you, private funding). Our lack of facilities is flagrant. Just try counting the number of computer labs at Concordia with decent computers, or try counting how many escalators are working at the same time on your way up the Hall building.

The problem is more perfidious than simply losing professors: we also can’t hire any. Take the Political Science department, the largest department at Concordia (representing 1,900 students, or around eight per cent of the total student population). Despite its sizable student population, the department only employs 36 full-time professors, five of whom are on limited-terms appointments.

The current number of full-time, tenured or tenure track professors isn’t going to grow anytime soon. It has been confirmed on multiple occasions: there is not enough money to hire any more tenure track professors.
This means that our current professors are going to continue being overburdened with no end in sight, and that any great candidates the department could potentially attract are going to go elsewhere. There is simply no money for them here.

This is why I say that the fight against tuition increase is misguided: we should not fight against a tuition increase that appears to be necessary; instead, we should be fighting to ensure that the government and the university administration make sure students have the necessary tools to continue to afford their education.

In a recent study demonstrates that 44 per cent of students have parents that cannot help them with their schooling. This fact needs to be taken into consideration. If the government wishes to increase tuition, the loans and bursary programs needs to be similarly adjusted at the same time. It should be doable, considering the federal government just approved a transfer of $275 million to Quebec following the demise of the Millenniums Program.

This would be a good start if it is all reinvested in loans and bursaries. Concordia also needs to put its house in order, to reduce its level of bureaucracies, to stop giving golden parachutes and to effectively deal with student money. (Take a look at your transcript to see how much fees you are paying in bureaucracy alone if you’re not convinced.)

Concordia needs to develop a solid scholarship program so that it stops losing good students to other universities at the graduate level.

This problem isn’t confined to Concordia; universities throughout Quebec are affected by it since none of them have any kind of funding for graduate students. A quick look at Ontario universities, where tuition is higher, will show you quite a different picture.

This is why I say the fight is misguided. At the moment, the government wishes to increase tuition without doing any work and without increasing the necessary funding options. Rather than fighting the increase outright, we need to open the debate with the Quebec government and ensure that the increases are going to be directed towards what is needed. This shouldn’t be a one-way street.

Students and faculty alike should be able to express and guide how the money is spent. The bottom line is simple: our fight should be about the quality of the education we are receiving, and I think we need to start being pragmatic about it.