Quebec gets peek at president’s tuition plan

Quebec university students to pay Canadian average for tuition by 2020

Concordia University president Judith Woodsworth wants higher tuition but with certain conditions. Photo Terrine Friday

If Concordia President Judith Woodsworth has her way, your tuition might start an eight-year climb in 2012 that will bring it to the Canadian average of $5,000 a year.

Speaking to the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture and Education on Aug. 16, Woodsworth was the first of 18 university heads to make the same call for higher tuition. Students protested on the grounds of Quebec’s parliament as Woodsworth spoke.

“We know that the government made a statement in the May budget saying that tuition will go up. So the position that all universities have taken by consensus—we spent a lot of time […] coming to a consensus—was to agree that this is a good thing,” said Woodsworth to The Link on Aug. 20.

“We decided this because Quebec universities are underfunded to the tune of, the last number several years ago was $275 million a year, it will probably come closer to $500 million.”
The announcement didn’t come as a surprise to the executives of the Concordia Student Union.

“This was in the budget and we saw it coming, our reaction will now depend on the government’s actions,” said CSU President Prince Ralph Osei. “Aggression will get aggression.”

Calling the proposed tuition increase “drastic,” CSU VP External and Projects Adrien Severyns was travelling to a conference of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec in Abitibi on Aug. 18. According to Osei and Severyns, the outcome of the FEUQ conference will dictate the CSU’s response to the tuition announcement.

Woodsworth cautioned that any increase in tuition would need to be carefully adjusted and watched to best serve the interest of students.

“We are happy that the Quebec government will allow increased tuition, but we have several conditions,” said Woodsworth. “One is that more be done for accessibility and student aid. The other condition is that they don’t grab all the increased tuition and put it into repaying the government debt.

“We don’t want them to balance the budget by charging higher tuition.”

As part of her call for a “more robust and solid financial aid program,” Woodsworth said that she headed a call at the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec to expand student aid to part-time students.

“We don’t want them to balance the budget by charging higher tuition,”
—Judith Woodsworth,
Concordia President

“In the debate at CREPEQ, one of the things my colleagues were worried […] about was part-time students who couldn’t afford higher tuition. So I said, ‘Why aren’t part-time students eligible for loans and bursaries programs.’ They said, ‘They’re just not.’ So I said, ‘Make them eligible,’ and they all said, ‘Oh.’”

During Woodsworth’s examination by the Committee, the CSU posted a dozen tweets, including: “Prez promotes her American model of financing education at the QC National assembly” and “Judith Woodsworth believes that part-time students don’t need financial aid.. What a shame..”

Woodsworth raised the issue that both these tweets were wrong. The second tweet was soon corrected by the CSU, but the first was not, despite Woodsworth making no reference to the American model.
“I did not use the words American model […] all I said was that we were raising money among our donors, and most of them aren’t American,” said Woodsworth. “Maybe the CSU people who were there didn’t understand French.”

Despite the CSU’s apparent lack of comprehension at the Committee and lack of a strong stance the week after, Osei did say that the student union “is going to get students agitated, excited and ready to go out with other schools.”

Faced with a possible student strike over the next year, Woodsworth did not attempt to discourage students from taking to the streets. But the president did say that she was ready to sit down and talk with students.

“It’s the students’ right to protest, it’s their job and it would be great to have education free,” Woodsworth said. “We can engage them in debate as long as the debate is held in good faith.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 02, published August 24, 2010.