Tuition on the Rise

Cost of University Will Nearly Double by 2017

Thousands of students protest proposed tuition hikes outside Quebec’s National Assembly in December. Photo Julia Jones
Photo Julia Jones
Photo Julia Jones

It’s official, your tuition is going up. Five years from now the average Quebec student will be paying nearly twice as much for a university education.

Last Thursday, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand unveiled the Charest government’s 2011-2012 budget, which includes a plan to increase tuition by $325 a year from 2012 to 2017.

Factoring in ancillary fees, students will pay upwards of $6,000 a year for tuition by 2017—almost half of the $13,000 the average Quebec student lives off each year.

While the Charest government’s decision to raise tuition fees is being praised by Quebec’s university administrators, students across the province are outraged.

“These increases are unacceptable,” said Concordia Student Union VP External & Projects Adrien Severyns. “The government is depriving students of a basic right and the CSU will fight to mobilize students against these increases.”

Bachand’s announcement came days after 50,000 protesters took to Montreal’s streets to rail against the budget, which also included an annual $200 “health tax.”

Protests over increases in tuition have been fairly common this past year, with over 1,000 students gathering outside Concordia’s Hall building for a day of action on Feb. 14, thousands chanting slogans outside the National Assembly on a snowy December afternoon and hundreds picketing outside Montreal’s Sheraton hotel on Friday.

“This budget will exclude students from university classrooms, that I can assure you,” said Louis-Phillipe Savoie President of the Fédération des étudiants universitaire du Québec. “The government is refinancing universities on the backs of students.”

In his Thursday speech, Bachand said he was adjusting tuition fees to the “level they would have been at today had they been indexed at the rate of inflation since 1968.” He added that, despite the increases, the province’s tuition rates will still be 30 per cent below the Canadian average.

Additionally, Bachand said, 35 per cent of the increase in tuition fees will be returned to students through $120 million in bursaries.

The minister also claimed there was no link between tuition hikes and a drop in university enrollment.
But Savoie refuted Bachand’s claims pointing to a study that linked a decrease in Quebec university participation rate with increased tuition fees in the 1990s.

“Two thirds of Quebec students are going into debt to stay in school,” said Savoie. “So already, there’s a precarious and fragile financial situation. You can imagine how much more fragile that situation will become over the next five years.”

Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota said the university is “encouraged” by the budget, which is set to increase provincial funding in universities by $430 million for 2016-2017.

“For the first time there’s a real incentive for private donors to give money,” said Mota. “The provincial government will match private donations to universities. It’s something that should really help out.”

Although the province will, in fact, match the amount privately donated to a school, it has capped the amount of funds available to this end at $1 million per university.

Savoie stressed the necessity for a university education in the modern economy.

“At least 70 per cent of new jobs created in Quebec require a university degree,” he said. “How can we expect to remain competitive in this regard without accessible education? Furthermore, studies show that for every dollar the government invests in a university student, it gets five back in taxes and jobs created.”

Both Severyns and Savoie are calling on students to mobilize and neither has ruled out the possibility of lengthy student strikes.

“There’s a will for students to get out there and show the government their frustration,” said Severyns. “We know it will be a long fight but we will do what it takes to keep education accessible.”