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On cuts, Quebec students stand with university presidents

Yesterday, the Pauline Marois government announced that they would cut about $124-million from university budgets for the current 2012-2013 fiscal year. How so? The government claims that this reduction was already in the works, and that the previous Liberal government had already made university administrations aware. The universities dispute that they had any knowledge of the cut.

For the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), which is Québec's largest student group, representing 125,000 university students across the province, this announcement is highly concerning. We fear that the administrators might cut teaching, research or student services in order to balance their budgets. These particular components are at the heart of the universities' missions and should never be the targets of these cuts. We want the Québec government to provide clear instruction to university administrators not to cut in these sectors.

The FEUQ believes that the province's universities can save money by cutting needless advertising campaigns and exorbitant salaries The savings, though, are not supposed to be destined for the coffers of the PQ government. The goal was, and remains, to ensure the healthy management of Québec universities.

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In another area, we find ourselves standing with university rectors and presidents. What concerns us both is that the PQ government has decided to implement this measure while actors in postsecondary education across Québec are preparing for the Summit on the future of Québec's universities, their quality, accessibility, research and – indeed – financing. This hasty decision is deeply problematic; implementing such a decision prior to its discussion at the Summit suggests that the government may be placing the cart before the horse.

As a student group, we are obligated to bring forth tangible solutions. Even though on management and on student financial contribution to the universities there is still a great gap between the positions of the different actors around the table, especially between students and administrations, there are still many points in common. As an example, we all agree on the fact that the quality of education is a most important issue, and that we have to work all together in order to maintain and extend the actual quality. But the question of how to accomplish that goal is still is to be debated and the opinions of the situation depends on the different groups represented at the Summit.

Another and most important of the FEUQ's proposals can be found both internationally and at the collegiate level here in Québec: an independent commission composed of primarily university community members, including students, teachers, staff and administrators in order to end mismanagement. This commission, the CÉUQ ( la Commission d'évaluation des universités québécoises, or the Québec University Evaluation Commission), would be mandated to ensure the due diligence of public spending in universities, and to ensure that money is being spent in function with the universities' mandates. The universities's principals were strongly opposed to this idea, but last week, they rallied to the FEUQ's initiative. The government appears favourable to this proposition, but their pre-emptive actions remain worrying. Many serious questions have arisen in the wake of this decision, and we await with impatience the government's response.

Yanick Gregoire is the executive vice-president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec.

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