MONTREAL - The counter-proposal presented by two student associations is "disappointing," in the ongoing tuition debate in Quebec, said Education Minister Line Beauchamp Tuesday afternoon.

Leo Bureau-Blouin of the federation etudiante collegiale Quebec (FECQ) and Martine Desjardins of the federation universitaire Quebec (FEUQ) pointed out what they consider the flaws in last Friday's proposal from Premier Jean Charest and Beauchamp.

Namely, they feel the plan to improve the student loan system and make payback dependent on income, will scare off potential students who don't think they will be able to handle debt.

Instead, the duo presented a plan to save the government money and render a tuition hike unnecessary.

The proposals released Tuesday by the two student federations call for:

  • A committee to monitor management of universities
  • A limit, to three per cent, of university expenses that are peripheral to education
  • An analysis of arrangements between businesses and universities, when it comes to patents
  • A two-year moratorium on university funding increases
  • A five-year moratorium on construction of new campuses
  • An estates-general, or roving consultations, on education
  • A freeze on tuition at 2012 level

Beauchamp responded to the offer in a press conference Tuesday afternoon, saying she was disappointed the groups' position had not changed.

"I'm not in front of a counter-proposal, I'm in front of a defence of their position," she said. "They did not move on the fundamental issue and I'm disappointed."

Beauchamp said the government would not soften its position on the tuition hikes, but has always been open to some of the proposals, including questioning the management practices in universities.

Masked protesters heckle student leaders

Showing the splits that have marked the student movements, Tuesday afternoon's news conference was disrupted by protesters, some wearing bandannas and masks.

The group stood up at the back of the room and unfurled a banner reading "Our counter-proposal: Mud and Crumbs."

The student group CLASSE is expected to present its counter-proposal later this week.

There's no evidence Tuesday's hecklers are formally affiliated with any official student group. The masked demonstrators refused to reveal their identities.

But there have been heated disputes at recent demonstration marches in Montreal, over how radical to get and over whether to allow a so-called "diversity" of protest tactics, like vandalism.

Window-smashers and other vandals have been booed, shoved aside and heckled by more peaceful demonstrators who believe the key to success for their cause is remaining calm and winning public sympathy -- which they say is undermined by the association with vandalism.

With files from The Canadian Press