Under the Parti Québécois government, the situation of Quebec’s universities is worse than ever. Not only are the schools deprived of a fair financial contribution from the students, whose tuition fees remain by far the lowest in Canada, but the government is inflicting devastating cuts on university budgets – and retroactively, to boot, since they’re being forced to slash a total of $124-million for the last four months of the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
Furthermore, the universities haven’t been compensated for the loss of revenue resulting from the cancellation of the tuition increase imposed by the previous government and can contemplate a future where the government contribution to their budgets will decrease while tuition might rise by the rate of inflation at best.
Meantime, the alliance between the PQ and the “red square” movement that wrought havoc in Montreal last spring is stronger than ever. The student rebels won more than they asked for.
Not only are tuition fees returning to their previous low level, but students will benefit from the generous aid package offered by the previous government as a concession to counterbalance the hike. Students from lower-middle-class families will pay next to nothing for their studies.
At the time, student leaders disdainfully rejected the offer because they were campaigning for free tuition. Now, though, they’ve deigned to accept this welcome gift from the new government and are, indeed, having their cake and eating it, too. Quebeckers, the most heavily taxed citizens in North America, weren’t asked for their advice.
The student rebels also have the privilege of having the Minister for Higher Education, Pierre Duchesne, completely and wholeheartedly on their side. Mr. Duchesne, a former Radio-Canada parliamentary correspondent in the National Assembly, doesn’t hide his “red square” bias.
The minister has even mused about the possibility of granting student associations labour union status, which would then allow them to declare a real strike and legally raise picket lines to prevent other students from attending classes.
Incredibly, Mr. Duchesne says he’s not sure Quebec’s universities are underfunded, even though it’s a fact that they’re underfunded by more than $600-million a year compared with universities in the rest of the country.
And when university presidents protested against the last-minute budget cuts, the minister curtly told them to trim their own salaries.
Mr. Duchesne’s arrogant attitude is especially shocking since, as minister, he’s supposed to arbitrate between different groups at a summit on higher education set for February, a pet project of Premier Pauline Marois. Ms. Marois has been quick to rebuke other ministers who’ve made beginner’s mistakes but, strangely, she hasn’t yet intervened, leaving Mr. Duchesne enough rope to hang himself if the summit ends up a giant failure.
This anti-intellectual bias of the Marois government is quite distressing, coming from a party that was founded by intellectuals and that enjoyed much support from the academic community. But times have changed. Obviously, the PQ under Ms. Marois finds it electorally profitable to play the populist card against the universities.
Many parents are just happy they won’t have to pay much for their children’s education. But will they realize that, as the quality of universities declines, so will the value of their children’s degrees?
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