Last Thursday, April 5, Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp proposed a new student loans plan, in response to the student movement that has been opposing planned provincial tuition fee increases of $1,625 over five years.
Beauchamp said that the government will not back down from the plan to increase tuition fees. In protest of the increases, nearly 200,000 students from across the province have been boycotting classes for over nine weeks.
SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault questioned whether the offer was realistic.
“A lot of student associations are on strike until the government makes an offer on tuition fees,” he said. “It’s not a realistic offer given the mandate a lot of student associations have voted [on], which is to reconsider the strike once the government is talking about tuition fees.”
The plan would allow graduates to repay their student loans in a manner proportionate to their incomes. The aid policy would also allow students with a family income of over $60,000 to borrow under the aid program.
“I’m hesitant to say that’s even a step in the right direction,” Pedneault said of the proposed loan policy. “I think one of the fundamental issues at the root of the student strike is student debt, [but the proposal is] expanding the capacity of certain students to get into more debt to finance their studies.”
Pedneault noted that a similar offer regarding income contingent loan repayment plans was made and rejected during the 2005 student strike regarding cuts to the Quebec Grants and Loans program.
“Students continued to strike after that offer was made and eventually that was not on the table anymore, and the government reversed its decision to cut the bursaries program in Quebec,” he said. “I could see a similar situation evolving right now, where people reject this offer and decide to focus on the main issue at hand, which is the tuition increases.”
Beauchamp also suggested that students hold votes by secret ballot to end the strike.
“The debate now is in the student community,” Beauchamp told the press.
According to Pedneault, this week CEGEP administrations will have to reopen collective agreements with professors, whose contract guarantees two months of break in the summer.
“If the strike continues, that will push the semester into the summer territory,” he said. “The pressure is very real and very immediate.”