Student Protest Update

The price of a post-secondary education is on the rise. With each additional semester of study, the average student has to weigh the benefits of an education against the cost (and for a greater majority of us, student loans and debt) to get that education.

This struggle between education and cost has been the focus of the student strikes in Quebec over the last 13 years. From 1968-1990, tuition in Quebec had been fixed at a rate of $500 per year. In 1990 the Liberal government doubled the tuition fees, causing a drop in student enrolment until 1994 when the government tried to double the fees a second time. With the prospect of further increases in tuition fees in less than 5 years, the students of Quebec went on strike; fees were frozen until 2007, until the government instituted a $500 increase over 5 years until 2012.

Eliane Laberge, the President of the FECQ (Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec /Quebec Federation of College Students), spoke last week at CNC about the history of strikes in Quebec, specifically the fee hikes that had initiated the March 2011 strikes. The proposed fee increase in 2011 was $1,625 over 5 years, roughly a 75% increase in tuition fees.

“It was not an economical, but an ideological decision,” says Laberge. “One-third of the increase in fees was going to be funnelled back into financial aid for students. It was like, ‘Here, give us $20 and we will loan you back $20 with interest.’ It didn’t make sense, why can’t we just keep our $20?”

It was these inconsistencies that the student unions, along with the 80,000 students they represented, protested against for 14 weeks. During the peak of the strike in March 2012 there were more than 300,000 students protesting, roughly 3 out of every 4 students.

“What frustrated us was that the government made us feel like we were not there, even though we were the biggest strike in the history of Canada,” says Laberge. Eventually, after months of futile bargaining, the students finally won. The increase in fees was blocked after the Liberal government was voted out in favour of the Bloc Québécois. Why should we as students in BC care about a strike in Quebec? Because there is a strike going on all around us here at UNBC.

A $20 million cut to the post-secondary budget in BC is planned for next year and part of $70 million in administrative cuts have been proposed over the next 3 years. The firm Deloitte has been contracted see how cuts can be made. One of the ways the province plans on saving money is called the “Post-Secondary Sector Administrative Service Delivery Transformation Project;” this plan looks at consolidating services at universities in order to cut cosst.

“In the past, ‘shared services’ and ‘shared procurement’ have meant privatization,” says CUPE-BC in response to the recommended shared procurement and back office administration services which Deloitte suggested.

Services like IT and payroll are under consideration in order to determine if they can be centralized between universities to save money. Earlier this year a collective letter was signed by all 25 public post-secondary institution presidents in BC, including President Iwama from UNBC, stating, “We must be clear that it is unrealistic to assume that the reductions contemplated by Budget 2012 can be achieved without implications for service levels.”

CUPE 3799, which represents 370 support staff here at UNBC, has had an overtime ban in place since October 11, 2011, in an attempt to put pressure on the province to listen to their demands. This ban follows a general walk out which happened on October 4th on the UNBC campus.

On October 15 and 16th there were 2 scheduled meetings between the university bargaining team and CUPE. “Both sessions were delayed, postponed, and eventually cancelled as management is waiting on approval from the government regarding their proposals” says Caroline Sewell, CUPE 3799 president.

By Leila Maheiddinibonab