Last updated: May 7, 2012 11:12 am
Quebec government presents new offer to student groups
If approved by students, deal would see tuition increases offset by reduced fees
MONTREAL (CUP) — The Quebec government and the four major associations representing Quebec students have come to an agreement, which if accepted by students throughout the province, could see the end of a nearly three month-long tuition strike.
After 20 hours of negotiations, student representatives agreed to take an offer back to their memberships to vote on. The proposal would see tuition increases, but would create a council of university stakeholders that would recommend ways to cut a nearly equal amount of ancillary fees for students.
Details of the offer were announced publicly Saturday night in a press conference with three of the Quebec student associations: the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the temporary coalition for the Association Syndicale pour la Solidarité Étudiante (CLASSE).
“We’re talking about a theoretical tuition freeze,” said Léo Bureau-Blouin, president of the FECQ, on Saturday, adding that “it has to be clear that the strike is not over.”
About 173,508 Quebec students are currently participating in the general unlimited strike, which began on February 14. The strike will hit the 12-week mark this Tuesday.
Bureau-Blouin also said that though he felt the offer would have a “real impact for accessibility,” it was “not a total win for us.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for CLASSE said that none of the student associations were going to push their members to accept or refuse the government’s offer. All three of the Quebec student associations consult their members via general assemblies.
“We think it’s the responsibility of the students on strike. It’s a question of respect for them, and the energy they are putting into the strike for twelve weeks,” Nadeau-Dubois said. “CLASSE will present the offer for discussion and debate among its members.”
He responded to a question regarding the time frame of the student associations’ decisions stating that “after 12 weeks of being on strike, we will take the time to decide.”
The government’s offer
This latest offer would maintain a $254 annual tuition hike for seven years — a higher total increase than the government initially planned — but would create a provisional council of Quebec universities that would attempt to find savings at universities and then use them to cut ancillary fees paid by students.
The proposed council, which would make recommendations to the Ministry of Education by December 31, 2012, would have a mandate to examine “possible theories for the optimal use of universities’ financial resources and to demonstrate, should the case arise, reoccurring savings that can be made available.”
It would specifically scrutinize outsourcing of campuses, spending on publicity, real estate holdings, administrative personnel, accountability and the transfers of funds. The provisional council would also recommend the composition for a permanent council.
“We believe universities have the means,” Bureau-Blouin said. “We’re saying that it’s possible to free up billions and billions of dollars, and [have] that money be reinvested into students.”
“What’s important for us is the amount that students will have to pay,” he said. “The message that we’ve had since the beginning of the strike is that the tuition hike is not necessary.”
The provisional council would consist of 18 individuals. The four student associations that participated in negotiations would chose four representatives, with three others chosen by the Ministry of Education, and the rest coming from the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec (CREPUQ), major Quebec unions and the Federation of Cégeps.
Under the offer, the government would pay $125 in ancillary fees for every full time student in the fall 2012 semester as part of a “temporary measure” that will continue until the council delivers its recommendations to the Ministry. The offer states that, in the absence of the council’s recommendations as of December 31, 2012, the temporary measure will also apply to the winter 2013 semester.
The tuition hikes, which students have been protesting since they were announced officially in Quebec’s provincial budget in March 2011, are currently slated to amount to $325 per year over five years for a total increase of $1,625. The hikes are to go into effect September 2012.
Minister of Education Line Beauchamp also spoke with media on Saturday evening. She described the negotiating environment as “very difficult.”
“The leaders of the student [associations] never moved their position,” she explained. She added that, under the circumstances, she was satisfied with the offer presented Saturday.
FEUQ President Martine Desjardins stated in French that the offer is the most that can be done notwithstanding an election. The last provincial election was held in December 2008, making the latest date Quebec’s Liberal government could call an election December 2013, as the government cannot exceed a term of five years.
The final document in the offer states that the student associations will submit the “offer in principle” to their members for consultation. “They will not engage in organizing demonstrations connected with this agreement,” the offer reads.
At least two Facebook events call for the thirteenth nightly demonstration in downtown Montreal to be in protest of the government’s offer. One of the events is titled "Demonstration against the government's offer: freeze or strike.” Both events are organized by groups autonomous from the student associations.