All Posts Tagged With: "tuition freeze"
ASSE calls for protest on Feb. 26
Premier Pauline Marois says it’s too bad a major Quebec student union group will boycott the province’s much-touted summit on post-secondary education because it’s depriving itself of the right to be heard.
The more hardline ASSE group says it will skip the upcoming summit because the Parti Quebecois government has refused to consider the option of free university tuition.
Instead, group spokesman Jeremie Bedard-Wien says he’s calling for a large popular and student demonstration during the summit on Feb. 26.
Marois says she regrets the group’s decision and points out the event will discuss a variety of subjects, not just tuition fees.
Tuition freeze likely
The Parti Quebecois government appears to be challenging the notion that the province’s universities are under-funded, a tactic that could hold significant implications it prepares to hold a highly anticipated summit on education.
The government has promised to host a symposium in February aimed at finding a long-term solution to the challenge of university funding, an event that stems from a key PQ election pledge to cancel previously planned tuition hikes.
But it is now sending signals that universities might not actually require a financial boost.
Members of the government including Premier Pauline Marois have in recent weeks been repeatedly challenging the premise that the province’s universities are under-financed. On Thursday, the government even leaked a report to the media challenging that oft-repeated notion.
Texas tuition freeze, a stabbing & mandatory women’s studies
1. Two people were stabbed during a fight at a house party near McMaster University early on Sunday. This isn’t the first stabbing at a house party near McMaster. Many of the people in attendance were from out of town, police say.
2. Rick Perry, the conservative Texas governor who ran for the Republican presidential nomination, has endorsed a four-year tuition freeze at state colleges and universities. Anti-tuition advocates usually have more success with left-wing parties, but this statement won’t surprise anyone who has heard of Perry’s push to create a $10,000 degree in the Lonestar State.
3. The York Federation of Students is pushing for “a mandatory equity or women’s studies course to help students gain awareness of the root causes behind sexual assaults and violence.” A professor in York’s the School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies says it may not be the best idea and that there is no guarantee such a course would actually reduce sexual assaults.
Province increases university funding despite deficit
Newfoundland and Labrador will soon take the crown as the cheapest place to study, despite a deficit budget that includes job cuts and that will cause provincial net debt to rise by $1-billion to $8.5-billion by March 2013.
Tuesday’s budget includes $44 million for Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic to prevent them from raising tuition fees, which averaged $2,649 in the fall of 2011.
The province will soon have the lowest fees in Canada. Nationwide, university fees averaged $5,366 in 2011, according to Statistics Canada.
Students can’t blame tuition fees for low enrolment
Clearly, 1969 was a great year to be going to university in Quebec. The province was in the process of detaching itself from its church-dominated past, priming the demand for an educated class. Prospective university students could also take heart in knowing that, because of a tuition freeze that year, they would pay $500 a year throughout their studies.
Having been in effect for 32 of the past 43 years, the tuition freeze has been as enduring as it is economical. As a result, students today are getting an even better bargain than their forebears. A Quebec resident attending university today pays $1,968 a year—or just $311 in 1969 dollars. And as the months-long student boycott of universities across the province shows, low tuition is something of a sacred cow here, like cheap electricity and beer at the dépanneur. The student movement says the provincial government’s plans to increase tuition to $3,793 will hinder access to higher education.
PQ platform will include tuition freeze, restricting access to English-language CEGEPs
The Parti Québécois held their big party congress over the weekend. This conference was particularly important because Quebec’s largest opposition party was deciding on the policies that they will be bringing to the voters in the next provincial election.
The biggest news out of the congress was the overwhelming level of support for leader Pauline Marois. She received over 93 per cent in a confidence vote, well over the 80 per cent required to avoid a leadership contest.
There were also some interesting developments on the education front, with delegates voting to oppose the tuition hikes introduced in last month’s provincial budget and, if elected, to freeze tuition at 2012 levels. That proposal has received support from the province’s largest student lobby group.
Delegates also backed recent calls by PQ members of the National Assembly to extend the province’s language laws, which currently restrict access to English-language primary and secondary schools, to CEGEPs. Students in Quebec, who graduate high school in grade 11, must attend a two-year CEGEP program before going to university. The colleges also provide vocational programs.
Currently in Quebec, children can only attend schools in the English-language system if one of their their parents or siblings was educated in English in Canada, or if the child began their schooling in English elsewhere in the country before moving to the province. Everyone else, essentially all francophones and immigrants, must attend French-language schools. The restrictions apply to all schools that receive any government funding, including most private schools.
The PQ has always been something of a strange animal. It is, essentially, a single issue coalition, centred around Quebec nationalism and promoting the French language. Yet, it has formed the province’s government on several occasions and, according to a poll that appeared in Saturday’s Le Devoir, may be poised to do so again.
Over the past few years some high-profile former PQ members, including former leader, Lucien Bouchard, have publicly denounced hard-line nationalist positions. This movement away from the party seems to be coming mostly from its right wing, leaving the PQ more left wing and more radical, at least when it comes to issues of Quebec nationalism and the French language.
But while Marois may be more radical than some of her predecessors, she is certainly not on the party’s radical fringe. Over the weekend, she convinced the majority of delegates to backtrack on a policy that would have called for all commercial signs in the province to be exclusively in French. Instead, the party will be sticking with the status quo, which allows multilingual signs, as long as French is predominant.
The party’s plans to extend the language laws to CEGEPs are controversial and may not be very popular but it’s probably not going to cost them politically. The number of students who would be affected by this change is small, around 4,000 a year, the far majority of whom are in the Montreal area, which isn’t exactly a PQ stronghold. As well, it’s a much bigger issue for anglophones, who wouldn’t have voted for the PQ anyway, than for francophones.
Quebec’s next election could still be a long way off, Premier Jean Charest doesn’t have to call one until December 2012, so it’s much too early to call this one for the PQ. But, when it does come, many young Quebecers will most likely be feeling that both of the province’s major parties are working against their interests.
Over 2,000 students protested against tuition hikes
Here’s a bit of an update on yesterday’s tuition protest in Montreal.
Five protesters were arrested. According to police they’ll be facing charges including mischief and assaulting a police officer.
According to police, a woman was injured when a small group of protesters stormed the building that houses the offices of the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities. Police said the woman, who works in the building, was injured in an altercation with protesters. CREPUQ had called for a tuition increase very similar to the one planed by the Quebec government.
It’s not clear why police chose to shut down the protest when they did. There were some small scuffles outside the doors of the office building, where police used pepper spray. But any violent incidents were pretty isolated and things seemed calm in the minutes before the riot squad showed up.
I’ve covered a lot of protests and I’ve never seen the police shut down an almost entirely peaceful protest the way they did yesterday. It all went down very quickly and their tactics seemed to be designed to intimidate and create panic. Police were firing stun grenades less than 10 minutes after the riot squad showed up. It was a pretty scary place to be. The Link’s Riley Sparks took a video that really shows how crazy the whole situation was.
Today, Quebec-based television network, TVA was asking questions about police conduct at the protest, after they obtained a video of riot cops knocking down a middle-aged woman.
Clearly, there are a lot of students who are angry about the tuition hikes and the fact that the protest was shut down by riot police isn’t going to help the situation any. The other key takeaway is that yesterday’s protest was very francophone and that all the student associations that endorsed the corresponding one-day strike are at French-language schools.
Protesters storm Quebec Finance Minister’s office, clash with security and police
One student was injured on Thursday, when several dozen protesters stormed the Montreal offices of Quebec’s Finance Minister.
According to organizers, the protester was injured when a security guard pushed him through a glass door. Police are investigating. Rue Frontenac also reported that a ministry staffer threatened to attack one of their photographers if photos were not deleted, when the photographer refused, the staff member grabbed his cell phone. It was later returned.
Apparently fearing for their safety, the protesters soon left the office. Several protesters were pepper sprayed by police but no arrests were reported.
The protest was organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, one of Quebec’s largest student lobby groups. They’re upset with the tuition increases included in last week’s provincial budget, which they described as a “declaration of war against students.”
Another protest is planed for next Thursday.
As is often the case with posts like this, the majority of the links above are to French-language sources.
Students back university, criticize lack of provincial bursary support
The majority of McGill MBA students support the program’s high tuition, according to a survey released by the MBA Student Association on Friday.
The release comes just days after the provincial government announced it would be fining McGill $2.1 million for raising MBA tuition without permission. Fees in the program rose from $3,400 to $29,500 last fall. The university has refused provincial funding for the program since the increase.
According to the student association, 70 per cent of those surveyed said that “the program is at a reasonable or below reasonable price.”
Students in the program are no longer eligible for provincial bursaries, in an interview about that issue last month, the president of the MBA Student Association, Pat Tenneriello, told me that the majority of students support the increase “because we see the investment.”
According to the student association, new professors have been hired and the program has already improved in international rankings.
The student association also used the release of the survey to criticize the lack of bursary support. “Our decision to pay the market price for our education should not affect our ability to receive funding in support of our endeavours to become future industry leaders within Quebec,” the release says.
While the Quebec government continued to thaw the tuition freeze in Thursday’s budget, tuition fees for provincially funded programs will still be assessed at a standardized per-credit rate.
Tuition hikes a major issue for protesters
10 people were arrested at a large protest against Quebec’s upcoming provincial budget, on Saturday. The budget, which will be tabled this Thursday is expected to include tuition hikes and a $200 per person health care tax.
Protesters criticized the government’s plan to return to a balanced budget by 2014, saying the government is moving too fast.
“Their obsession with returning to a balanced budget in 2014 is too dangerous,” said Michel Arsenault, president of the Quebec federation of labour. “We want to maintain and improve our social services.”
According to La Presse, the four women and six men arrested, all in their 20s, will face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and carrying a weapon. One of those arrested is prohibited from attending protests. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, a large student lobby group, denounced the arrests as “arbitrary.” There were no other major incidents.
You may notice that most of the links above are in French. With the exception of a brief in the Gazette and a mention on talk radio station CJAD, Montreal’s English-language media don’t appear to have covered the protest at all.
Province confirms plans to increase tuition but questions remain
The Quebec government held its big meeting of “education partners” on Monday and it pretty much went down exactly as expected: students held a large protest and the government reaffirmed their commitment to increasing tuition.
The only unexpected event of the day was when representatives from labour and student groups walked out of the meeting. While I didn’t see the walkout coming, I can’t say it was a surprise; these groups had already condemned the meeting and other student groups boycotted it. The reason for the walkout and the boycott, that the government came into the meeting with its mind already made up, does seem to have merit. At a press conference following the meeting, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand reminded reporters that the government had promised a tuition increase in last spring’s budget.
As for the protests, they were huge. I’ve been to a lot of tuition related protests in my time as a student journalist and without a doubt this was the biggest one I’ve ever covered. The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec protest, outside the hotel where the meeting took place, had numbers in the high hundreds all afternoon. For their part, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante had a larger protest, which started outside the National Assembly, across the street from the hotel, snaked its way through old Quebec and then back up to the hotel. It’s hard to come up with a number. I’d guess around 2,000 people, maybe more.
The big question now is what happens next. While the government has promised tuition increases it’s still not clear how much fees will rise or even when that will be announced.
The government has dropped some hints though. At the press conference on Monday, Bachand was echoing some talking points from the group that represents university administrators, saying that due to inflation students are now paying less than they were in 1968. The Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities has called for tuition to increase by $500 a year over three years. An increase of that size would bring tuition fees for Quebec residents to just under $3,700, certainly a major increase but still less than the current national average.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that this is what the government will do but if I were to put money on it, I’d bet that the government will put forward a similar plan.
CREPUQ has also called for significant increases to financial aid, with 25 per cent of funds raised through any increase being put towards grants and loans. While the government hasn’t offered any numbers on financial aid increases, they have promised to increase aid levels in conjunction with a rise in tuition.
How any increase will affect students from out of province also remains very unclear. Canadian students who are not Quebec residents already pay significantly more than Quebecers, over $5,600 a year. Those rates are already increasing faster than tuition for Quebec residents who have seen tuition rise by $100 a semester since 2007. It’s probably a given that out-of-province tuition will rise along with the Quebec resident rate but given that these fees are already the third highest for Canadians in the country, only Nova Scotia, which has a higher out-of-province rate and Ontario, which does not have separate rates based on provincial residency, have higher undergraduate fees.
Professors, staff and students release a manifesto on the future of universities in the province
With less than two weeks before the big education partners meeting in Quebec City, student groups, along with staff and faculty unions, are trying to get out in front of the debate.
Last week, Quebec’s largest student lobby group, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, released a major survey on student finances.
Today, it’s a manifesto (in French) signed by pretty much every student and labour umbrella group that is involved with post-secondary education in Quebec.
All three of Quebec’s active student lobby groups have signed the document: FÉUQ; the smaller, more radical, Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante and the newer and smaller Table de concertation étudiante du Québec.
The group which represents continuing education students’ associations, who usually keep a low profile, are also on board.
On the labour side are umbrella groups representing professors, lecturers, non-academic professionals, as well as university-related branches of two of Quebec’s largest trade federations and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
So what are they calling for? Universities that are “free, accessible, public and democratic.” (That’s free as in the French word “libre,” not free as in “gratuit.”)
Basically, they want to see the provincial government invest more in universities, freeze tuition and reform the financial aid system so students graduate with less, or no, debt. The manifesto claims that the funding for this could be raised from cracking down on tax evaders and cutting corporate tax breaks.
But it’s also about a vision for universities and rejecting the idea of a “knowledge economy,” or at least the idea that universities should be subject to market forces.
These groups say they want universities to be high-minded places where knowledge is pursued, not just places where the next generation of workers are trained.
The manifesto also contains calls for university autonomy. This is mostly in response to government plans that would require university boards of directors to include a certain percentage of “independent” members, ie. people from the community at large, not the university.
It also takes a lot of shots at the “lucides.”
At their press conference today, the groups behind the manifesto said they had given up on the current consultations, like the education partners meeting next month, and want to see much broader public consultations on the future of universities.
This isn’t surprising. It does seem like the education partners meeting is more for show than actual consultation, so it makes sense for these groups, who don’t like the direction the government is taking, to try and delegitimize the process.
But it seems unlikely that this will have any effect on the government’s plans.
Jean Charest’s government is in a bad situation, its policies are pleasing no one and there’s a haze of corruption allegations surrounding it. There will definitely be some policy shifts, but if the government changes course on post-secondary education it’s probably not going to be toward the vision put forward in this manifesto.
This sort of document, with its broad social vision and message that Quebec doesn’t have to be like the U.S. and the rest of Canada, plays well with the Parti Québécois base. In other words, it appeals to people who probably didn’t support the Liberals in the first place and oppose them for a whole host of reasons beyond education.
If Charest tries to win anyone over with his higher education policies it’s far more likely to be the business community, the “lucides,” who are calling for the exact opposite.
Why Quebec’s low tuition hasn’t led to high university enrolment
By 2012 between 6,000 and 13,000 Quebecers will have been prevented from going to university by a $500 increase in tuition, according to one of the province’s largest student lobby groups (their numbers come from a survey commissioned by the Quebec government). But a closer look at university participation rates and tuition fees across the country shows that the relationship between the cost of a university education and the percentage of people who attend isn’t quite so cut and dry.
Last Thursday, over 300 students, mostly from the Université du Québec à Montréal, protested a series of consultations which are set to take place between the provincial government and “education partners,” including students. The protest was organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale, which represents over 40,000 students across the province.
These students are opposed to the consultation process because the government has already announced their intention to raise tuition in 2012. Tuition rates in the province have been increasing by $50 per semester for Quebec residents, and $100 per semester for out of province students, since 2007 when the Charest government partially thawed the province’s tuition freeze, in place since 1994. In total tuition has risen $500 over five years for Quebec residents and $1,000 for out-of-province students. While this protest was relatively small compared to the protests in 2007, it’s pretty safe to say that these protests will grow as the 2012 increase approaches.
Here in Quebec, which has Canada’s lowest tuition rates (at least for Quebec residents) the participation rate is also one of the lowest in the country. According to 2005 numbers from Statistics Canada, the most recent complete numbers available, among people aged 24-26, 38 per cent have attended university.
Newfoundland has slightly higher tuition than Quebec but that province’s participation rate — the highest in the country — is 10 per cent higher than Quebec’s.
Nova Scotia, where university enrolment increased by over three per cent this fall (according to the Association of Atlantic Universities), has the second highest participation rate in the country despite their tuition being the second highest. Ontario, which has the highest tuition fees among the provinces, has a higher participation rate than Quebec and despite large tuition increases over the past several years, Ontario universities had a record number of applications this year.
In Alberta, where tuition rates are comparable to the national average, participation is the lowest.
It seems that provincial economies and the demands of the job market have far more to do with participation rates than tuition fees. In Atlantic Canada, with the decline of the fishery and mining sectors and in Ontario, with the decline of the manufacturing sector, jobs that existed a generation ago — and didn’t require a university education — are gone. While in Alberta the oil industry is still going strong.
The counter-intuitive difference between participation rates in Quebec and provinces where tuition is much higher may also have to do with the unique nature of Quebec’s education system. Quebec students graduate from high school in grade 11 and must attend two years of CEGEP (or go to a private college) before attending university. The CEGEP/college system has a participation rate of over 60 per cent — giving Quebec the highest college participation rate in the country.
While the system was created to encourage university participation it may be having the opposite effect, with CEGEPs also offering three-year technical degrees, it is more appealing for some students to do one more year of CEGEP and graduate with a skilled trade rather than going to university, and with the cost at CEGEPs being slightly over $100 per semester it’s certainly the cheapest and fastest way to get into the workforce.
A tuition hike for MBA students is opposed by the province; so far neither side has blinked
McGill University and the Quebec government have been locked in a stare-down ever since the school announced last year it would no longer abide by provincial caps on tuition fees for its M.B.A. program. The province promptly kicked up a fuss, and even threatened to fine the school for its insolence. So far, neither side has blinked—even though students are back in class and their tuition bills are in the mail. “We’re still in the same place we were several months ago,” says Peter Todd, the dean of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management. “We’ve made it clear we’re going ahead.”
The 56 students entering McGill’s M.B.A. program this fall will shell out $29,500 a year for the privilege. That’s about 15 times what Quebec residents will pay in tuition for any other master’s program at McGill, and more than five times as much as out-of-province Canadians. McGill’s M.B.A. fees are hardly out of whack with those of other top-tier programs across the country—Canadian residents beginning their M.B.A. studies this fall at the University of Toronto will have paid about $75,000 in tuition before the end of the two-year program, while those at the University of Western Ontario will be out $68,500 for its one-year program. (Like the University of Toronto’s, McGill’s is a two year program.) The big difference is McGill didn’t wait for the government’s permission to announce the hike.
This past spring, Quebec’s then-education minister Michelle Courchesne lashed out at the university, reminding it that “tuition fees are set by the government.” Courchesne also threatened to claw back $28,000 in funding to the university—$11,000 of which would have been the province’s share of funding for M.B.A. students—for each student registered in the program if McGill went ahead with the hike. However, Courchesne was never given the opportunity to follow through on the threat; she was shuffled out of the education portfolio last month and replaced with Line Beauchamp.
Beauchamp declined to be interviewed, but a ministry spokesperson acknowledges there hasn’t been any movement on the issue, since “the new minister hasn’t yet had time to work on the file.” That means McGill still isn’t sure what to expect from the government in the coming months, though Todd says the school can absorb the fine should the province choose to impose it. “If we have to deal with some issues with the government in the short term, we’re absolutely committed to doing that,” he says. “We don’t see that we have a lot of choice.”
The spat is the latest in a growing list of ideological battles between supporters of Quebec’s cap on tuition and those who say it starves the province’s universities of much-needed funding. In 2007, the Jean Charest government announced it would hike university fees by $100 a year for the next five years—the first increase since 1994. But three years later, critics say Quebec’s universities are still teetering on a financial precipice.
At a speech to the Canadian Club this past June, McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum argued, “The biggest obstacles to our universities’ success are the outdated objects of our ambition and underfunding.” Her complaints echoed those of a group of 16 prominent Quebecers, including former premier Lucien Bouchard and former finance minister Monique Jérôme-Forget, who in February called for the deregulation of tuition fees. “Quebec’s universities are hurting,” Bouchard said in a statement signed by the group. “The condition is not incurable, but it is chronic.” However, the call for reforms has yet to find a receptive audience either with the government or the opposition.
While the Charest government has agreed to hold wide-ranging talks this fall on university funding, its stance on McGill’s decision to privatize its M.B.A. program makes clear it’s not yet willing to relinquish its role in setting fees. In that sense, the Liberals are on much the same page as the opposition Parti Québécois, which argues deregulation would undermine Quebec’s increasingly unique egalitarian approach to post-secondary funding. “If we’re going to raise the issue of tuition fees, it’s not with the idea of having the state disengage itself,” says PQ post-secondary education critic Marie Malavoy. “By making such a provocative move, what McGill University is doing is calling into question the model of Quebec universities.”
Todd rejects the notion that McGill is charting a revolutionary course with its expensive new M.B.A. program. “We’re at the end of a chain of this kind of transformation across the country,” he says, “not at the vanguard of it.” And he’d be right, of course, if McGill were anywhere else but Quebec.
When raising tuition, it seems business programs are the favoured target
The way by which tuition fees are set in Canada is nothing short of insane. There is no overarching principle to point to, such as an agreement on the proportion of their education students should be fairly asked to pay. And while coming to an answer to that question would be wholly arbitrary, it would be nothing compared to the blatantly politicized process being witnessed across the country.
Universities take proposals to provincial governments outlining their financial shortfalls and explain that if only tuition were allowed to rise they could ameliorate their problems. Student groups, in turn, take their own proposals to the government claiming that any tuition hike would be nothing short of devastation. The province then comes to some conclusion based on analysis that must assuredly be plucked from thin air, and then sets the price.
While I am generally unpersuaded by the argument that keeping tuition low is a social necessity, there doesn’t appear to be any coherence to why some faculties are permitted to raise tuition and not others. Or put another way, why students in some faculties will continue to enjoy comparatively lower tuition while others will not.
Just last week, the Alberta government ruled that some faculties were worthy of tuition increases while others were not so worthy of tuition increases. At the University of Alberta tuition will rise between 15 and 66 per cent in engineering, pharmacy, grad studies and business. Proposed increases for the U of A faculties of medicine, law, dentistry and others were denied. At the University of Calgary, only tuition for business school was permitted to rise.
A similar scenario is about to play out two provinces over as the University of Manitoba is preparing proposals to increase tuition in no fewer than eight professional programs, which want to see tuition rise between 20 and 114 per cent. The first faculty to take its proposal public was the Izzy Asper School of Business, with Dean Glen Feltham holding several Town Halls with students last week. The Manitoba government will only consider tuition increases for professional schools, and none from the arts and science.
The Alberta government argues that the faculties approved for tuition increases made a sound argument as to why, when tuition was reduced to 2004 levels and increases were capped at inflation, tuition was too low to begin with. In addressing these “market anomalies” the government compared the cost of tuition for programs at comparable universities.
Although there is an appeal to some principle, that the benchmark for raising tuition include some reference to costs at other schools, different standards appear to be applied. For instance, why would medicine at the University of Alberta be denied a tuition increase? It is true that at $12, 460 per year, tuition for the U of A’s medical department is somewhat above the national average of $10, 261, but that average includes Quebec where, because of a long-standing tuition freeze, a year of medical school costs $2,468.
Now if you look at schools that the U of A might reasonably be compared with, like, I don’t know, the University of Calgary, which, as I understand, is a short drive from the U of A, a different picture emerges. Medical school tuition at the U of C is $17,850 which is on par with the University of Toronto which charges $17, 200. The U of A proposal to raise med school tuition to $15,100 would have brought it inline with the University of British Columbia, but would still be well below Calgary and most Ontario schools.
Compare that to the U of A’s business school which was given the green light to raise tuition. At $5,100 per year, it was, like medicine, close to on par with the national average for business school tuition, but, unlike medicine, will now rise and be more comparable to some of the more expensive business programs in the country. Are business schools special?
Whether tuition is high or low, the price is arbitrary
It finally happened. Quebec will soon be saying good bye and good riddance to its tuition freeze. Finance Minister Raymond Bachand, who announced the change in his budget this week, said “students need to pay a fair share.” Why? Because “We want our universities to be world class.” In response, a McGill Daily editorial called the remarks “offensive” and argued that “These planned hikes, however large they may be, must immediately be met with organized student action.”
Oh boy. Here come the student strikes protests. As much as various Quebec “student leaders” want to frame the issue as one over a just or unjust society, it is nothing more than a conflict between buyers and sellers that is unhelpfully, and arbitrarily, mediated by the government. When students complain about the cost of tuition, it is not much different than if they were complaining about the cost of computers.
But what about poorer students unable to pay for their education? That debate should have ended long ago. There is very little evidence that supports the conclusion that the cost of tuition is a barrier to pursuing a post-secondary education.
At the same time, I am not entirely void of sympathy for students facing tuition hikes. What does the finance minister mean when he says that students should “pay a fair share”? The only criteria given to support the idea that Quebec tuition is too low is that other provinces have allowed tuition to increase, and, of course, Quebec’s universities have been lobbying for tuition to rise for years. So while the government has until now favoured students (or buyers) in keeping tuition low, it will soon favour universities (sellers) in allowing it to rise. There is no objective reason why tuition should rise or decline. Whether it is low or high, the price will be set arbitrarily by the government, and, it will largely reflect the balance of success of the lobbying efforts of various groups.
If there were a free market in education, students and universities would be left to negotiate the cost on their own. Universities would have no choice but to deliver high quality education at a reasonable price, lest they lose students to competitors. Under the current framework, governments give operating grants to universities on a basis that does not always ensure higher quality education. As such, higher tuition fees might simply be used to swell university bureaucracies, which already rival that of the federal government. Or they might be used to keep professional programs inexpensive, while arts and science students see little benefit from a university’s new-found wealth. There is simply little incentive to actually improve services for students.
When the price of anything else is influenced by governments, through subsidies or trade barriers, as well as price controls, there is always at least some resistance, or at least a recognition that the government is buckling to one pressure group or another. Wouldn’t it be nice if the education sector were subject to the same scrutiny?
Students to see interest relief
Tuition in Ontario will continue to rise at an average rate of five per cent a year, the province announced today. The tuition cap has already been in place for three years. The framework does allow universities to raise tuition by more than five per cent in some programs, so long as it is balanced with smaller increases in other programs. Before the current framework was in place, tuition was frozen for two years.
The ministry of Training Colleges and Universities has also announced several changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Students will not be charged interest on their student loans for six months after graduation. Until now, while students did not have to make payments on their loans for six months, interest still accrued. But, while graduates will see interest relief, the “Ontario Student Opportunity Grant threshold, which caps annual student debt, will increase from $7,000 to $7,300 for a two-term academic year.” All OSAP money over the threshold gets converted from a loan into a grant, and a rise in the threshold is likely to increase debt loads.
Additionally, how much students are permitted to earn without having to face a clawback from OSAP has increased from $50 a week to $100 a week.
The changes are set to take place in August.
Report exposed Manitoba’s tuition freeze policy for what it really was
Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett has written an epilogue on the Manitoba government’s recent decision to lift the tuition fee freeze in that province. Lett makes the following point about lower tuition fees and accessibility:
The tuition freeze has been wildly popular with students, of course, but it has been under constant attack from the schools, which claim it starves them of needed revenue. Earlier this month, the province released a report written by Ben Levin, a former deputy education minister, that pretty much exposed the tuition freeze policy for what it really is.
Levin noted there was no connection between lower tuition fees and accessibility, the NDP government’s chief motivation for maintaining the freeze. Levin recommended modest tuition increases for university and college students, the first in a decade.
Levin’s conclusions were hardly shocking
Two years ago, Ontario and Quebec completed exhaustive studies of the relationship between tuition fees and accessibility. The conclusion was that lower tuitions make education more affordable for those who could afford to go; for those who could not afford to go, lower tuitions did nothing.
Liberals to continue caps, NDP promises a freeze, Greens pledge 20% reduction
British Columbians will go to the polls in a provincial general election on Tuesday, May 12. The major political parties are offering the following directions for tuition fee policy:
After having deregulated fees during their first term starting in 2002, the B.C. Liberals are pledging to continue with capping increases to the rate of inflation. The NDP is promising a freeze, while the B.C. Greens would roll back fees by 20 percent. The B.C. Conservatives would give tax incentives to new graduates moving into industries with skills shortages.
NB mayor says free tuition would encourage procreation, increase population
A number of arguments have been put forward in favour of the elimination of post-secondary tuition fees over the years, including arguments associated with increasing access for those who cannot afford post-secondary education and mistaken notions about equity and taxation.
The mayor of Saint John, New Brunswick has proposed another reason for eliminating tuition fees: procreation. Saint John Mayor Ivan Court believes that free tuition for post-secondary education might encourage Saint Johners to have more children and thereby increase the city’s population.
Can you imagine the placard slogans?