It's a little hard for the rest of us to muster sympathy for Quebec's downtrodden students, who pay the lowest tuition fees in all of North America. Even if the government has its way – no sure thing if the Parti Québécois gets back in power – they'll still have the lowest tuition fees in North America. The total increase would amount to the cost of a daily grande cappuccino.
Students in Quebec are like no others, we're told. We need to understand that tuition fees are not the real issue. The real issue is social justice. The real issue is the promise made during the Quiet Revolution that universities would eventually be free. The real issue is the fight against the ruling class, the greedy corporations, the tar sands, and the entire capitalist, neo-liberal elite. Of course, since universities actually do cost money, somebody will have to pay. Who? The greedy corporations!
The most militant protest group, the CLASSE (whose handsome spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, has become a celebrity on French TV), has lots of other ideas about social justice. It wants a boycott of Israel's "apartheid regime." It wants courses, lesson plans and reading lists to be "feminized." It wants an end to free trade. You get the idea.
According to Pierre Martin, a political science professor at the University of Montreal, Quebec's students dwell in a world of their own. They neither know nor care what's happening in the rest of Canada. "The Quebec education system is a distinct system in the sense that very few students would contemplate the option of going elsewhere," he said on As It Happens. "The system is very self-contained." Now I get it: The kids are on another planet.
In fact, Quebec's students have good reason to be furious. They should be furious at the professors who tell them that their cause is just, and who have deluded them into thinking that social justice can be achieved if only the greedy corporations are brought to heel. They should be even more furious at all the adults in the government and education establishment who have fooled them into thinking that the education they're getting will equip them to thrive and prosper in the world.
The truth is, the education they're getting is overpriced at any cost. The protesters do not include accounting, science and engineering students, who have better things to do than hurl projectiles at police. They're the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills. The world will not be kind to them. They're the baristas of tomorrow and they don't even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.
A university degree is no longer an automatic ticket to a decent job and a pleasant living. According to a devastating story by The Associated Press last week, more than 50 per cent of recent university graduates in the United States are either unemployed or working in jobs that don't require bachelor's degrees. They're more likely to work as "waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined."
Canada, too, is awash in soc and psych majors. And soc and psych majors who refuse to venture beyond their comfort zone – linguistic, geographical, or ideological – face even dimmer prospects. Someone should have told them that by now. Sooner or later, they'll find out, and it's going to be a shock.