Quebec Students Protest Fee Hikes

Echoing the student protests in London, which some claim have weakened the global reputation of British Universities, students have marched through Montreal in protest against planned tuition increases in Quebec. So far there have been no reports of students clashing with police.

The demonstration comes with Premier Jean Charest poised to sharply increase tuition fees over the next five years. Quebec students, who have among the lowest tuition fees in Canada, can expect to pay about $325 more each year, nearly doubling tuition fees by the end of the five-year period.

Charest has already declared that the protest won’t have any effect on government policy as his mind is made up on the issue. Fees for Quebec students would still be among the lowest after the changes. However, Charest’s Liberal Party is considered unpopular and with elections less than a year away the changes may not be set in stone. Parti Quebecois has already pledged to cancel the hikes if elected.

The protests have been ongoing most days for several weeks now, mostly inoffensive but occasionally disruptive. On Tuesday the students blocked Montreal’s Champlain Bridge and this gave the ruling party the chance to frame them as being irresponsible and ungrateful.

“We also need to listen to the silent majority — those who can’t be in the streets because they’re too busy working,” Education Minister Line Beauchamp told The Canadian Press. “(They’re) biting the hand that feeds. The money (for universities) has to come from somewhere…. If they hurt economic activity, if they keep people from going to work, it’s frankly biting the hand of those who pay the bills.”

While Quebec’s students are obviously unsettled by the planned increases which will increase their debt burden, they could perhaps compare their situation with students in Britain and the US, who would be delighted to pay less than $4,000 a year for higher education.