With the election of the minority Marois government in Quebec, the tuition hikes that sparked massive protest across the province are no more. The decision by Marois to forego the increases is a significant one for student advocacy in Canada; however, some students in Quebec are now advocating for free tuition. It’s an audacious goal, and one up for discussion with Marois and the rest of the government. Though Alberta and Quebec are far apart in terms of geography, the tuition decisions made in the East certainly affect the West. So we asked Students’ Union VP External Petros Kusmu about his thoughts on the issue:
1. What do you think about the Marois government’s decision to roll back tuition?
I would call it a “cautious” win for Quebec students. A “win” in the obvious sense that the proposed tuition hikes have been rolled back. But what makes this a “cautious” win is that Marois’ proposal of indexing tuition to inflation is just that: a proposal (remember that the PQ has a minority in the legislature). Additionally, a large part of the Quebec student movement (i.e. CLASSE) aren’t completely happy since they see the inflation index as another tuition hike and a long way from achieving their end goal, which is free tuition. That said, it is good to see that the Marois government has taken positive steps towards achieving a more accessible post-secondary education system.
2. Why do you think Quebec students were successful in their lobby efforts?
The Quebec students were able to mobilize around a very specific aim — to stop the Charest government’s proposed tuition hikes. With that specific objective and a concrete end goal, it became more straightforward to mobilize students and get mass support, along with national and international attention.
3. What does this news mean for tuition discussions in Alberta?
I feel that politicians and other PSE stakeholders in Alberta respect the spirit of collegiality in university discussions and are open to consulting student leaders in good faith in regards to tuition. While this may be a stretch, I feel like the Quebec student movement indirectly strengthened the Students’ Union’s advocacy efforts here in Alberta by highlighting the need to keep communication between all PSE stakeholders open.
4. What are you thoughts about free tuition?
To improve PSE, we need to increase access from underrepresented groups within the PSE system such as Aboriginal students, rural students, and students from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds. Investing in programs that increase access and ensure that no one in society should be barred from getting an education due to finances is more important for us to address than free tuition. Why? Tuition is only part of the huge costs of getting an education. For instance, rural and Aboriginal students may face the great burden of moving into another city to attend university, which leads to increased costs. Additionally, textbook prices continue to skyrocket and fees and the costs of living continue to increase as well. At the end of the day, students who face greater costs of getting an education (i.e. students normally from underrepresented backgrounds) have a lower rate-of-return on their education than those students who don’t. Investing in, for example, grants, bursaries, and debt relief programs that target students from these underrepresented backgrounds should be the first priority, before we address how our society could work towards free tuition.