Universities and student groups are shocked and outraged by severe funding cuts announced behind closed doors this week by the provincial government.

According to multiple reports, Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne informed university presidents and rectors on Tuesday that he is immediately cutting $140 million from their budgets for the 2012-2013 school year.

The surprise cuts come as many universities and CEGEPS said they were already dealing with higher than expected costs because of this year's student protest movement and its ramifications, including alterations to class schedules and extra pay for teachers and security officials.

Martine Desjardins, the president of the student group FEUQ (Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec) is demanding Duchesne explain the move.

As one of the leaders of the red square protest movement earlier this year, Desjardins said her goals were to eliminate administrative mismanagement and improve education.

"We know that money was being mismanaged in universities, but this is not a reason to bulldoze university budgets," said Desjardins.

FEUQ argues that money exists within the system, but said it is not always allocated toward research and education.

"We know that there is about $189 million that could be saved in the university network by demarcating certain expenses which are not linked to teaching and research. But is that a reason for imposing hasty cuts in universities? We don't think so," said Desjardins.

Liberal education critic Gerry Sklavounos condemned the retroactive budget cuts.

"For the University of Montreal this means $24 million in cuts, and $21 million for l'Universite Laval," said Sklavounos.

When the Parti Quebecois was elected on Sept. 4, one of their first moves was to call off the tuition hikes that in many cases had already been paid, and announce a freeze in tuition for the next year.

Sklavounos said these measures now amount to not just a $120 million shortfall for higher education by 2014, but an additional cut of $140 million over the next four months.

"This is vandalizing our universities! For the first time in Quebec, we have a Higher Education minister who is seeking to bankrupt our universities," said Sklavounos.