The Spring of Student Discontent

When I first heard of the Quebec governments plan to raise tuition fees by $1625 a year over the next five years, I had a fairly indifferent opinion. After all, I had never pursued an education at an institution of higher learning and I had been out of school for close to twenty years.

To be honest I never gave the situation the attention that it deserved. I figured at the time that a small hike in tuition fees was probably warranted, I even thought that any protest stemming from the hikes would likely die down soon after it started. Clearly I should have been more inquisitive; if I had been I wouldn’t have been wrong on both accounts.

The student strike and protest is now entering its fourth month, they have spawned more than 160 protests in 72 days in Montreal alone. The protests have now garnered international attention including coverage on CNN and Al Jazeera. In my (new found) opinion, the actions of the students are completely justified.

This whole state of affairs revolves around the Quebec government’s rising debt, but instead of raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy, Premier Jean Charest prefers to take it out of the pockets of middle class students. It’s no wonder the students have used the 99% movement as motivation for the cause.

An education is probably the single most important gift a society can offer its people outside of healthcare, but even without tuition fees, college and university can be damn expensive. Students still have to pay for lab fees, books, housing, food, etc. even with a part time job it’s next to impossible to leave school without racking up debt.

Jean Charest with Education Minister Line Beauchamp

It was only a generation or two ago when the average student could attend university, hold a part time job at MuckDonalds and be virtually debt free when he entered the work force. Students are aware that those days are disappearing quickly and are trying to reverse the present course.

I believe there are two things driving the youth of Quebec to protest so loudly: principal and fear.

The students believe that the protesting of the government tuition hike is a matter of principal. We live in one of the wealthiest developed nations on earth, why should they be punished for pursuing a higher education? Quebecers are proud of their low cost, high grade education system and would prefer to mirror the Scandinavian model where tuition fees are nonexistent.

The trepidation I referred to is a fear the students have of the Quebec educational system slowing moving in the direction of the United States and the rest of Canada. In the US, total student debt has risen above a trillion dollars, more than the country’s total credit card debt. The average tuition fee for a public university is roughly $8000 (four times more than Quebec), but the average total cost of a four year program is close to $28 000 a year.

I’ve heard critics of the protests calling the students “unfocused,” “deadbeats” and “moochers,” simple responses from people not in the students’ position. If they’re deadbeats they wouldn’t be in school, if they’re unfocused they wouldn’t be protesting 24/7 and they aren’t mooching anything more than the person using his or her Medicare Card.

So what is the solution? The students are not about to pack it up and call it a semester. The question I have to ask is who, aside from the students, benefit the most from their education? The answer is simple; the people that hire them afterward. No one profits more from an educated populace than the companies who hire them.

An educated man can lead a good life with a good job, but chances are he’ll never be wealthy; he will be far too busy making the company or corporation wealthy. It seems only logical to me that the people profiting off of this man’s education should be the ones helping to pay his fees.

Don’t give in boys and girls.

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One comment

  • your argument is a picture taken from a distance, where all is clear. Up close, it looks different. I have met so many young Americans here whose parents frankly sneer at the cut-rate cost of education in Quebec – even for foreign students, who pay more. Making education cheap or free benefits mainly the children of the wealthy, who have the backing of ambitious, well-connected parents from the time they are born. Scholarships for the disadvantaged is the way to go. When education is cheap or free for all, young people with no job prospects will hide out in classrooms, taking the pressure off society to create meaningful jobs. Education is an investment. It pays off in $. Why should people such as yourself and hard working middle and lower middle class people (who pay the greatest % of income taxes) pay for the rich to educate their children? Modern economies are very complex. Time to tweak the system so that it does what we want it to do: provide affordable education for everybody. People who can pay more must pay more. There is no other way to make the rich pay than to slap a firm price tag on a valuable asset (education) and make them pony up. Cheap loans and grants for the rest. (By the way I think you are talking about principles… not pals.) 

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