Education summit ends with $70 annual hike, promise that 'crisis' is over
The summit on Higher Education has ended with a government promise to impose tuition hikes, and create five working groups to analyze post-secondary schooling.
Not one of those groups will be discussing changes to tuition fees.
Premier Pauline Marois ended the the day-and-a-half summit, which brought together university rectors, student leaders, and politicians, by saying the "crisis" of last year was over -- even if more protests happen.
Marois, who famously donned a red square on her lapel last spring and clanged pots and pans together during an anti-government rally, said that even though a consensus on raising tuition fees was not attainable, she felt a three percent hike, indexed to the cost of living, was appropriate.
The decision did not please university or student leaders, with one group saying the hikes were too little -- the other saying it was too much.
The head of McGill University says the government plan to impose limited tuition hikes while cutting government funding for education will force her to lay off staff.
Heather Munroe-Blum said there is no way about it: funding cuts will mean a reduction in personnel at one of Canada's best universities.
The Parti Quebecois confirmed on Monday its plan to impose a limited tuition hike -- capped at three percent of current costs, or about $70 per year -- while maintaining levels of student aid announced by the previous Liberal government.
However the PQ already told schools they would have to cut $250 million from their budgets, and that will not change.
The announcement left universities telling the government they will have to reduce staff and examine other ways to cut costs, which will likely result in a lower quality of education.
"We have to look at people, we have to look at services and financial aid to students. It's literally every domain of the university," said Munroe-Blum.
Meanwhile student groups at the Higher Education Summit said they felt betrayed by the decision.
After walking out of classes for months last year to protest tuition hikes, student leaders like Martine Desjardins of the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) said they felt universities were mismanaged and were spending too much on administration and research instead of teaching.
Desjardins has always preferred to see a freeze in tuition hikes, and is disappointed at the PQ decision to implement indexation.
"We're saying to the government if they want to have a perfect summit they need to actually listen to what the university community has to say and again the tuition freeze is the proposition of the community," said Desjardins.
With the summit over, Desjardins was one of many people who said she was sorely disappointed with how it turned out.
"I counted how many minutes I took yesterday to discuss the tuition fee and the indexation of the students: 8 minutes," said Desjardins.
With the average annual student income being $12,000, student leaders say even the minor increase advocated by the government, despite last year's increases in loans and bursaries, will be too much.
Desjardins's CEGEP level counterpart, Eliane Laberge, was also critical of the government's rush to implement a cost-of-living index on tuition fees.
"We think that right now we have to wait for the study on the condition of life of the students," said Laberge. "It's irresponsible to say that for all the other questions we're going to take our time, but not for this one which is really important."
Students will also face a harder time when it comes to paying their taxes. The PQ plans to reduce a tax credit for students from 20 percent to eight percent.