After twelve weeks and a marathon negotiation session on Saturday, it appears the bitter Quebec student strike is approaching its end.
- Tuition increase of $1,778 over seven years ($127 per semester).
- Eligibility for student loans and grants expanded over and above existing plans.
- A provisional committee on university finance will be struck, consisting of six university representatives, four student representatives, two union reps, two business community reps, and one representative each from the province’s CEGEPS and the education ministry, plus a president, named by the minister. The committee will examine university expenditures on marketing, management personnel, travel and real estate, and is expected to report by December.
- Savings the committee identifies will be reduced from the ancillary fees universities charge;
- For the fall semester, ancillary fees will be reduced by $125 – the amount tuition will increase, meaning the net cost to students will not increase. (An idea credited to, of all people, Gilles Duceppe’s son.) However, should the committee not find savings, this money is payable to the university.
Given that all sides declared this a “win-win” deal, it’s worth examining what each gets out of it.
The headline win: tuition is increasing. The ancillary fee deal is clearly of secondary importance. Given that the latest poll had 68% of Quebecers supporting them (up from 61% at the end of March), the Liberals couldn’t budge on tuition.
Their strike led to important student aid concessions listed earlier as well as gaining students a formal role in reviewing university finances (though the figure of $189 million in savings FEUQ and FECQ have “identified” seem to have been pulled out of thin air). The students’ strategy was to purposefully delay the net tuition increase until after the election. FEUQ President Martine Desjardins emphasized Saturday the plan to make tuition an election issue and bank on a Parti Québécois victory. A very high-risk strategy.
Though they may not net any new funds for a while (and will be irritated by outsiders dictating management decisions), universities get the tuition increase they lobbied for, a stable funding arrangement for the next seven years (for now) and, eventually, more operating revenue – obviously preferable to a tuition freeze.
No net increase until winter 2013 at the earliest. Substantial improvements to financial aid. And a fee increase that’s stretched out over a longer period of time than initially thought. It’s hard to imagine a tuition increase with a softer impact.
Our take? Everybody will walk away happy enough, which is good in the short term (assuming the deal is ratified by student associations, which is still iffy). But make no mistake about it, that finance committee is fertile ground for a number of very ugly battles to come. Having a debate about the kind of university system you want (which as we’ve previously said is worthwhile) is one thing; having accounts picked over by an external star chamber is another.