A version of this story originally appeared in the McGill Daily.
Despite exams and the first major snowfall of the year, thousands of university and CEGEP students from across the province demonstrated in Quebec City last week against the second Rencontre des partenaires en éducation, a meeting of provincial government ministers, university administrators, and student and labour unions.
Over 60,000 university and college students, mostly members of the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) were on strike across the province.
The main march led by ASSÉ noisily made its way through the streets near Quebec’s National Assembly, while a smaller rally organized by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) stayed outside the Hilton hotel, where the Rencontre was being held.
After around an hour of chanting slogans against tuition hikes, austerity measures, and Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government, ASSÉ’s march joined the rally in front of the hotel before dispersing at around 3 pm.
Meanwhile, after half a day of talks, representatives from student, professor, and labour unions walked out of the meeting due to what they saw as the government’s unwillingness to negotiate on proposed tuition hikes.
These included representatives from Quebec’s two largest student lobby groups—FEUQ (along with its CEGEP counterpart FECQ), and the Quebec Student Roundtable (QSR, also known as TaCEQ), of which SSMU is a founding member.
ASSÉ, the province’s third major student lobby group, decided to boycott the meeting and concentrate their efforts entirely on protesting.
At the meeting, the Conférence des recteurs et principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ), along with provincial finance minister Raymond Bachand and education minister Line Beauchamp, called for a fee increase of approximately $500 per year for three years beginning in 2012, according to La Presse.
Current tuition for Quebec residents stands at approximately $2,415 per year. The CREPUQ proposal would bring annual tuition fees to around $3,900.
Joël Pedneault, a QSR representative at the Rencontre and McGill student who walked out of the meeting, complained about a lack of dialogue.
“The meeting was insufficient to have the kind of debate that should be happening about the future of Quebec universities, which is more than just a one day thing, so everyone just walked out,” he said.