On the agenda for Monday’s education summit: funding universities and avoiding chaos
Published Friday, February 22, 2013 9:38PM EST
MONTREAL—Quebec's long-awaited education summit runs Monday and Tuesday and expectations could not be higher. What's at stake is nothing less than the quality of universities, how to fund them and whether to expect another season of chaos.
While university students have a lot of opinions, few have solutions.
At the disjuncture is clear at Universite Laval where some students are ready to pay more. “High education is high education,” said Isabelle Rivard. “It’s something that is a service. You need to pay a little bit.”
Others would prefer free university education. “It’s an ideal,” conceded Makeyah Giroux. “I want it, but I don’t know how we can do it.”
Other students say that the summit looks like a failure before it even began, fearing that the six month student strike will have been for nothing.
The Parti Quebecois did away with the Liberals' tuition hikes, but it imposed steep spending cuts at the schools. McGill University has been ordered to slash $38 million in a year. At Laval, there will be an immediate impact.
Government cutbacks mean that Universite Laval has to cut $36 million from its budget and the rector says that means the library will have to close at nights and on weekends, that it will buy fewer books and that there will be less sports.
The school's beloved physical education centre, known as Peps, will have to close on weekends and the Rouge et Or student athletes won't get as much practice time.
“Listen, you cannot have $36 million of cuts without it appearing somewhere. It's got to be there. I cannot fire people. I've got union agreements which cover 80 per cent of my budget. What do you want me to do?” asked Denis Briere, the university’s rector.
Opposition politicians say the summit has an impossible task in an era of costly social programs.
“It's because of the baby boomers, I'm part of them. We've been spending like pigs,” said Coalition Avenir Quebec higher education critic Stephane Le Boyonnec.
The Liberals say the summit must not give in to student unions or threaten access to schools by giving students a right to strike.
“We've got to refuse all positions and decision that close the door of university facilities, complicate the job of students,” said interim Liberal leader Jean-Marc Fournier.
The Liberals also released the brief they'll be presenting at next week's summit on higher education. It's the same offer the former Charest government made to students during last summer's demonstrations: It calls for higher tuition fees to be off-set by improved loans and bursaries.
It official opposition also called on the PQ to reverse its decision on university funding cuts. The Liberals say most Quebecers agree with the party's position that students should pay between 15 and 17 per cent of the cost of their tuition.
Meantime, Montreal police say they're ready for the summit.
Preparations are underway at the building known as the Arsenal in Griffintown where the summit will be held, it's in a residential and industrial part of town on William St.
Police say they've advised people in the area that there could be some traffic disruptions. They also say they will be present to ensure safety for all and that they're prepared for anything. The powerful ASSE student group has pledged to hold a protest outside the summit.
The government will have some tough decisions to make at the summit and no guarantee that anyone will leave happy.