Negotiations on Quality Reveal Divisions Between Student Associations

ASSE Takes Issue with FEUQ and Quality-Assurance Model Before Education Summit

Students demonstrate under the ASSE banner on March 22. Photo Erin Sparks

Friday’s discussion on quality in higher education revealed partitions among Quebec’s student federations as they began the process of negotiation with the government, university administrations and other actors in the lead-up to February’s summit on higher education.

“We did notice several divisions today with the student associations,” said Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante Communications Secretary Ludvic Moquin-Beaudry in an interview with The Link Friday afternoon.

In this new context of collaboration with the government on student issues, ASSE and the Fédération des étudiants universitaires du Québec are no longer displaying the same united front seen during the printemps erable.

Along with most others around the table, the FEUQ is proposing the creation of an independent body to oversee the quality of universities. However, its vision of this body’s composition and mandate differs from other actors such as the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities.

ASSE, on the other hand, does not support this measure, saying that it challenges the autonomy of institutions.

“We’re pushing for an education that is governed by its own community,” said Moquin-Beaudry.

He continued by saying that the call for quality assurance made by many at the meeting “favours economic profitability over academic performance,” and called FEUQ’s position “an awkward middle ground.

“If you look at the way the evaluation process has been applied in other countries, the evaluation bodies use criteria that are chosen by individuals in organisation that have a vested interest in making universities relevant to the private sector,” said Moquin-Beaudry.

Students made up 30 per cent of the representatives at the meeting, with members of civil society—like professional associations—educational establishments and the government making up half of the representatives. Professors and trade union representatives made up the final 20 per cent.

Moquin-Beaudry said that the presence of “lobbies” and “economic elites” at the meeting meant that ASSE’s position was unlikely to be taken into account.

“It’s clear that if we want to be listened to we have to take to the streets,” he said.

At the meeting’s closing round table, FEUQ president Martine Desjardins said that although the concept of quality was not something the meeting’s participants could come to a complete consensus on, “we need to be pragmatic and find a way to bring about action.”

La Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec President Éliane Laberge said that the meeting was like “catching up on lost time” after having been excluded from such negotiations for so long. She added that the “biggest challenge [to quality] is the plurality of opinions, of students, and of missions.”

This weekend a “national student assembly” will be held in Trois-Rivières a collaboration between student federations aimed at determining the student movement’s next steps. The FEUQ will not be in attendance, something that Moquin-Beaudry was critical of.

“It seems like the FEUQ is painting themselves into a corner by being so unconstructive,” he said.

Some of the FEUQ’s member associations, like the Concordia Student Union, will still be attending. Concordia’s Graduate Student Association will also be attending.

UPDATE: The Link originally reported Concordia’s GSA is a member of FEUQ, this is not the case. The Link regrets the error.