Charest offers to stretch tuition hikes over 7 years
QUEBEC - Premier Jean Charest has made public what was on the negotiation table with students this week, and it appears it won't be enough for students who say any tuition hike is too much.
"The government is listening to students and to the public and proposing a global solution," Charest told a news conference Friday.
Under the new proposal, the planned $325 tuition hike over the next five years would become $254 per year for the next seven years, resulting in a total increase by 2019 of $1780.
That's more than the original proposal of $1,625 over five years.
Charest's office explained the difference in price by saying that in the fifth, sixth and seventh years, the tuition increase would be indexed to the rate of inflation.
The proposal also includes increasing university grants and bursaries by $39 million, improving the tax credit given for university tuition, and making changes to the loan structure.
50 cents a day
Spokesman Hugo D'Amours pointed out that with the tax credit, the actual increase the students will pay under the new proposal is $178 per year, or roughly 50 cents a day. The old increase of $325 with the tax credit would have been $255 year
Students whose parents earn less than $45,000 per year would no longer be expected to have parents make a contribution to their education when it came to determining eligibility for loans.
Paying back loans would also be based on earned income in post-graduate years.
But as for calling off the tuition hike, Charest reiterated that it wasn't an option.
"In the 1960s students paid 25 per cent of the costs of their education," he said. "It fell to 13 percent by the late 1990s into the last few years. The hikes will bring it to 17 per cent."
Education Minister Line Beauchamp said that when including the new annual rate increase, and the extra income tax benefits, the cost per day of the increase dropped to 50 cents a day.
And with that, she said she hopes the roughly 170,000 students boycotting classes to stop their daily protests and return to school.
"For a cost of 50 cents a day, it strikes me that it's no longer the time to jeopardize an education," said Beauchamp.
Student leaders not impressed
The education minister said students should not jump to snap judgements
"Students have to take the time to appreciate the government's offer," said Beauchamp.
But it appears her advice went largely unheeded.
Appearing on several TV interviews soon after the announcement, student leaders said the new offer wasn't likely to convince students to stop their protest movement.
"We said yesterday that we were open to a negotiation meeting at 2 p.m. Friday. Instead we get a public offer. I find that deplorable," said Martine Desjardins, the leader of FEUQ.
Later Desjardins said she would not be surprised if protests became even more disruptive.
"By not meeting with students and going to the public, the government is throwing fuel on the fire," she said.
On the other hand Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesman for the CLASSE, said his group would be discussing the proposal this weekend.
"Madame Beauchamp is asking us to wait until next week to make a decision. It's a demand we will follow with pleasure," said Nadeau-Dubois.
At the same time, Nadeau-Dubois said members of CLASSE would only stop if the tuition hike was eliminated.
Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of FECQ, said there was some good news in the announcement, but was certain the students he represented wanted more.
"We can't play ping-pong in the public forum to arrive at a final decision," said Bureau-Blouin. "The government has to agree to change the final amount of the tuition hikes."
Other students were quick to dismiss the offer as an insult, and planned a demonstration Friday night at 8:30 p.m.
Legault approves, wants more
CAQ leader Francois Legault said Friday the government had taken a step in the right direction.
"If we're talking about grants and scholarships to offset the hike, we're talking about the amount of the hikes," he said, pointing out that receiving a bursary effectively reduces tuition.
Legault added, though, that he wasn't impressed it had taken 11 weeks of constant protest to reach this point.
"Jean Charest lacks leadership," he said.
"I think students should seize the day, come back to the negotiating table, and make some adjustments."