From California to Quebec, Students Fight Tuition Hikes

The longest student strike in Quebec’s history has started yielding results.

Diana Rosen May 12, 2012

Though high-qual­i­ty, low-cost edu­ca­tion is fast becom­ing a rel­ic, mil­i­tant stu­dent protests are very much alive. This year marked the first time stu­dents in the world-renowned Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem con­tributed more to their edu­ca­tion than the state, a fact that has been met with demon­stra­tions, board­room occu­pa­tions and a detailed pro­pos­al for free up-front tuition to be financed through repay­ments pro­por­tion­al to stu­dents’ income after leav­ing school.

Students in Quebec have sustained the longest student strike in the province's history—and they are beginning to win results.

While activists in the Unit­ed States have strug­gled to stem the tide of dis­in­vest­ment in pub­lic edu­ca­tion, stu­dents in Que­bec have sus­tained the longest stu­dent strike in the province’s his­to­ry – and they are begin­ning to win results.

Protests began in the spring of 2011 after the Québé­cois gov­ern­ment announced annu­al tuition increas­es of $325 for the next five years. Tuition costs have already increased by 30 per­cent over the last five years, and the new hikes amount to an addi­tion­al increase of 75 percent.

Since last win­ter, more than 150 stu­dent unions have vot­ed to strike, and near­ly 175,000 Que­bec col­lege stu­dents have boy­cotted class­es on cam­pus­es across the province. On March 22, in the biggest demon­stra­tion thus far, 200,000 protested.

In April, the unions won a meet­ing with Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter Line Beauchamp, who agreed to con­sid­er stu­dent plans for alter­na­tive financ­ing. Though nego­ti­a­tions broke down after two days when the min­is­ter tried to exclude the largest of the strik­ing stu­dent groups – Coali­tion large de l’Association pour une Sol­i­dar­ité Syn­di­cale Etu­di­ante (CLASSE) – for alleged­ly vio­lat­ing a 48-hour civ­il dis­obe­di­ence truce, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment has offered to spread the tuition raise over sev­en years instead of five.

But stu­dents vot­ed down the com­pro­mise offer, say­ing they will con­tin­ue to strike until the hike is called off com­plete­ly. And in a show of sol­i­dar­i­ty with CLASSE, oth­er orga­ni­za­tions have refused to return to nego­ti­a­tions unless all stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions are at the table.

We’re out again in the streets telling the gov­ern­ment that we don’t like their propo­si­tions,” Mar­tine Des­jardins, pres­i­dent of the Fédéra­tion étu­di­ante uni­ver­si­taire du Québec, told In These Times. Instead of going into the pock­ets of the stu­dents and par­ents, we should be look­ing for oth­er ways to finance education.”

Diana Rosen is a winter/​spring 2012 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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