I’m trying to imagine a worse excuse for a student movement than the one Quebec has at the moment; and I have to say that I’m not sure I can.
I mean, sure, the Canadian Federation of Students has talked some awful crap about how reducing net tuition for poor students is unacceptable, unless richer kids get a break too – really ludicrous stuff, which objectively favours richer students over poorer ones. But so far as I know, they’ve never actively aided and abetted a government that was intent on making universities poorer.
But that’s what FEUQ, and the rest of the Quebec student movement, seem to be doing right now.
True story: a few weeks ago, the Conseil des Recteurs et Principaux des Universites du Quebec (CREPUQ) put together a paper which argued that Quebec universities were underfunded relative to their Ontario counterparts to the tune of $850 million per year, or a shade over $4000 per student. These kinds of comparisons are always a bit fraught, but it was not a bad paper and, obviously, it was meant as a bargaining chip – a way of setting some markers in negotiations with government.
So, what did FEUQ do? Something that, to my knowledge, no student organization in world history has ever done. They became mouth-pieces for the PQ government, curtly dismissing the study by saying, “just because our schools don’t have as much money as somebody else doesn’t mean they’re underfunded”.
No, seriously, that’s what they said.
FEUQ’s train of thought seems to run something like this: 1) Universities want more money; 2) the provincial government is broke; 3) therefore, new money can only come out of tuition fees; 4) therefore, we’d better oppose this. The problem is, if you concede point 2 you’re more or less screwed in terms of asking something for yourself, like a more generous student aid system (which Quebec certainly needs, at least for dependent students). And you’ve gone and hacked-off one of your most natural allies as far as higher education is concerned.
And, frankly, you’ve failed students. I mean, if the student movement can’t argue on behalf of better funding for education, who can?
I understand and support the students’ argument that universities could better manage their affairs in order to keep pressure off tuition. Certainly, there have been a number of inexcusable high-cost screw-ups in building construction, which have reflected badly on Quebec universities’ managerial competence, and put needless pressure on university budgets.
But starving universities to keep tuition low is a recipe for long-term decline. A student union would have to be extraordinarily short-sighted, selfish, or stupid not to see that. FEUQ’s clearly not stupid; draw your own conclusions.