Anti-tuition-hike demo gets rowdy

December 7, 2010

Student protesters battled with riot police inside the Quebec Hilton hotel yesterday, trying to get into a forum about increasing tuition fees that another group of students had just left in protest.

Surete du Quebec ministerial bodyguards and hotel security stopped the students in a hallway after they entered the hotel using an emergency staircase. Reinforcements from the Quebec City police riot squad then arrived, pushing the students back down the stairs. Police officers used their batons and students fought with sticks in the violent confrontation.

Forum participants in the ballroom could hear the commotion but the event continued uninterrupted.

There were no arrests resulting from this incident, but earlier in a day of protests, one student as arrested and charged with assaulting an officer at the Hilton.

The attempted disruption came minutes after student and union representatives walked out of the forum, called to seek the views of about 120 people in Quebec’s university milieu about the issue of tuition hikes.

“We walked out because the meeting today was fixed,” said Louis-Philippe Savoie, president of the Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec.

During the morning session, which was closed to the news media, participants in workshops discussed tuition hikes, access to higher education and issues related to the underfinancing of Quebec’s universities.

Savoie was one of four workshop reporters, along with Concordia University president Judith Woodsworth; Francoise Bertrand, president of the Federation des chambers de commerce du Quebec; and Denise Boucher, vice-president of the Confederation des syndicats nationaux.

All four workshop reporters said there was no consensus on a tuition hike.

But at a joint news conference, summing up the work of the day, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and Education Minister Line Beauchamp confirmed the government’s mind is made up.

Bachand said the province will act quickly to decide how much tuition will rise, given the consensus among the university administrators present that the issue is “urgent.”

In his budget in March, Bachand said tuition fees would go up in the fall of 2012.

Bachand said in 1968, a student’s tuition paid 26 per cent of the cost of his or her university, education while today tuition only covers 13 per cent.

“Who is paying the difference?” Bachand said. “The middle class, through taxes.”

Beauchamp said another issue that was clear for the universities is that they don’t want the province to reduce its financial contribution once tuition is raised.

Even though a tuition hike was a moot point in the discussions, the education minister said, she learned about different financing resources and needs, as well as about access issues and the needs of part-time and aboriginal students.

Beauchamp wants to ensure students “who have the talent and want to go to university” will be able to attend.

Denis Briere, rector of Universite Laval, speaking for the association of Quebec’s university administrators, said Quebec should hike tuition by $500 a year for three years.

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