By Igor Sadikov
Quebec Minister of Higher Education Pascale Déry alarmed the university community with her October 13 announcement of a major increase in tuition fees for students from English-speaking Canada and abroad. The bill for Canadian students from outside Quebec would rise from $8,992 a year to $17,000, while international students would pay a minimum of $20,000 with the government recovering $3,000.
According to Premier François Legault, this measure aims to “halt the decline of the French language” by redistributing the money recovered to the French-speaking university network.
This reform, presented as a linguistic issue, is in fact a full-scale attack on the accessibility of education in Canada. English-speaking universities are playing into the hands of François Legault’s identity-based language policy by presenting themselves as the first victims of the reform. The rector of McGill University spoke of “serious consequences” and announced the retaliatory suspension of investment in French-language programs. McGill, notably, charges international students up to $65,000 a year, following the complete deregulation of their tuition fees in 2018.
By deregulating tuition fees for international students – first limited to six programs in 2008, followed by full deregulation in 2018 – the government freed itself having to fund higher education by encouraging universities to obtain additional funding by recruiting international students. This competitive recruitment of international students has worsened funding disparities between universities, hitting the Université du Québec network particularly hard. The rector of UQAM is delighted with the announcement of the government’s reform – forgetting that it would in no way reverse the deregulation of tuition fees for international students, nor represent any new public investment in higher education.
It is up to the student movement to lead the fight against this new increase. An initial demonstration took place on October 30, bringing together hundreds of students from McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s universities, as well as French-speaking institutions. Many student associations are supporting the struggle, including the member associations of the Coalition de résistance pour l’unité étudiante syndicale (CRUES – Resistance Coalition for Student-Labour Unity). This mobilization is an opportunity to strengthen the unity of students from Quebec, English-speaking Canada and throughout the world, around the fundamental demands of the student movement: the defense of education as a public service and the fight for free, accessible, quality education.
We must oppose the fee hikes and fight for free education for all.
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