movement is buoyed by the success of a one-day strike that managed to shut down
several institutions last November 10th. On that day, more than 20,000 students
marched through downtown Montreal to the offices of Premier Jean Charest, while
small groups coordinated to block the entrances of some universities and CEGEPs.
The various actions
were reported to have mobilized more than 200,000 students.
What has so many students
up in arms? The Charest government has announced its intention to raise tuition
fees by $325 per year from now until 2016, ultimately raising the annual tuition
to $3,793, an increase of about 75% over the current average tuition of $2,168.
effect that this move will have on present and future students is, according to
the strike movement, clear and simple: fewer people will go to CEGEPs and
universities, while some now attending will have to drop out, and others will be
forced to work to pay for their tuition (to the detriment of their studies) or
to importune their parents for more help. The fact that tuition in Quebec is the
cheapest in Canada and will remain relatively inexpensive even after the
proposed increases is embarrassing, so those who oppose the hikes have to look
for reasons why such a comparison is irrelevant.
The left-wing think tank Institut de recherche et d'informations
socio-économique (IRIS), whose research is considered definitive by the strike
movement, calculated in 2007 that for every increase of $1000, the number of
students able to finish their studies will drop by 19%.
To those of us tempted to
ask, "So what?" the strikers have a ready answer: fewer and more-distracted
students will damage our society because the more people attend university and
learn to be good citizens, the better it will be for all of us.
Indeed, the implication
is clear: everyone of a certain age ought to attend university. Education
(they never say how much) is a "right." For this reason, the more committed
elements of the movement opposing the tuition increase are dedicated to
eliminating tuition altogether, in imitation of some places in Europe. IRIS has
helpfully costed the proposal
at $550 million, a tiny fraction of the provincial budget (but one which,
presumably, would grow as many, many more people claimed their rightful degrees...).
To deny that people have
a right to education is, according to this movement, to adopt a purely
mercenary and basely pragmatic view of the value of education while ignoring its
importance in developing civic-minded members of a free and democratic society.
The counter-argument ‒ that those who have never had any interest in attending
university should not be taxed to pay for those who do, and that public
subsidies for elite education are a regressive redistribution of wealth from the
poor to the rich ‒ is dismissed out of hand. Education is a "social project" and
everyone must do his or her part. End of discussion.