Signs point to continued dispute over tuition
MONTREAL - The agreement in principle reached this weekend between the Quebec government and student groups is unravelling – and it's unravelling fast.
Protest leaders say about a dozen student associations have rejected the agreement between the provincial government and student leaders -- some by massive majorities of up to 94 per cent -- on the first of several days of voting.
Protests continues to take place across Quebec Monday, as some students say the government played dirty tricks.
"The offer is more misleading than anything," said CEGEP Marie-Victorin student Noemie Laurendeau. "There's really no guarantee of a reduction, there will just be a committee set up to evaluate university spending."
The 3,800 students at CEGEP Marie-Victorin were among the first round of students to reject the proposal.
"The more I analyze the agreement, the more I look at it, the more it feels like a rip-off," said Noemie Laurendeau.
Because the students have rejected this offer and so far refuse to return to class, they will likely lose a semester, said Marie-Victorin principal Nicole Rouiller, adding that she and her staff are ready to go to extreme lengths in order to squeeze the semester into the next eight weeks.
"We have proposed a calendar to teachers and to the students, with courses on the weekend into Saturday, and longer hours of the day," said Rouiller.
"It's still possible to give all the courses necessary to give diplomas to students," she said, adding that a continued boycott would present problems. "If we go further, it will be difficult to finish the courses before the end of June."
What was said doesn't match what was written: CLASSE
Meanwhile some of the people involved in the weekend's marathon negotiation session say what was written down does not match what was being discussed.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson of CLASSE, the largest and arguable the most confrontational of the four student groups at the weekend meeting, says he feels he was misled, although he refused to go so far as to say it was a deliberate move by the government.
"I don't want to put intentions to Minister Beauchamp or Minister Courchesne," said Nadeau-Dubois, but "this offer is problematic."
According to Nadeau-Dubois, during negotiations Education Minister Line Beauchamp said that reductions in ancillary and institutional costs could result in reductions in tuition fees.
That wording does not appear in the final document, and over the weekend the government re-iterated that tuition hikes would increase no matter what.
Regardless, CLASSE says the agreement is in the hands of individual students across Quebec.
"There will be no positive or negative recommendations from us," said Nadeau-Dubois. "There's a double message here and I think students in the general assembly will be a little bit disappointed."
Still far apart
Premier Jean Charest took a jab at the students, blaming them for the length of the conflict. Then his education minister, Line Beauchamp, stoked further student mistrust by reassuring her Liberal colleagues that the deal might not result in any tuition savings.
The student leaders, on the other hand, didn't work too hard to sell the deal to their members. At best, they have played a neutral role in the votes -- while some are vocally complaining that the final agreement isn't what they expected.
Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec leader Leo-Bureau-Blouin said he still had faith in the proposal.
"Of course we read what we signed. Of course there are some areas in the agreement that have to be clarified," he said.
One of several points of contention was the method for selecting members for a committee that will examine ways to cut costs in universities. That committee's findings will play a key role in determining how much the students pay in administrative fees.
Terms of agreement
Under the proposed deal a council of university and CEGEP students, administrators, union and business representatives, and government officials will look at a lengthy list of topics associated with universities, including programs, international students, partnerships with businesses, and the quality of teaching.
The group will also look at campus location, advertising and housing expenses, and payment of personnel.
This interim council is expected to file a report by Dec. 21, 2012
The tuition hike will be delayed until January 2013, but that could be delayed if the council is late.
With a report from The Canadian Press