Montreal Tuition Hike Protests Surge, But Why Are Students Protesting?

For the past two semesters the city of Montreal has been the epicenter of student protests focusing on proposed tuition hikes over the next few years. On March 22, tens of thousands of students flooded downtown Monteal in the largest protests since the hikes were announced, demanding they be rescinded. Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the growing dissent, the current opposition party – Parti Quebecois – has stated that if elected, it will end the tuition hikes, adding more pressure to the current government to capitulate. But while many of the students are acting with noble intentions, their demands are difficult to sympathize with given the disproportionate response to a relatively mild inconvenience.

Full disclosure: I attended McGill University in Montreal for the past four years, and prior to graduating had plenty of dialogue with some of the people who were involved in previous protests and came to be involved in the latest ones as well. Most of them were not the type of people who were affected by the tuition hikes: the hikes only affect in-province students. Out of province students and international students’ rates – which are much higher than in-province students’ rates – remain unaffected by these developments. Nonetheless, they were drawn to the protests for a number of reasons. The protesters are of the mind that education is a right and not as a commodity, that the tuition raises were unreasonable, and that a lack of resistance now would mean the government and school leaders would have no trouble imposing further measures against them down the road.

I suppose the latter is somewhat understandable. To put up absolutely no resistance to a measure is at least inconvenient could conceivably weaken the bargaining ability of students in the future. The problem is the resistance here is disproportionate to the inconvenience. Originally, tuition rates for Quebec students were a staggering… $2,519 annually. And they are being raised $1,625 over the course of a few years to a little over $4,000 a year. This helps make up for the fact that tuition was never raised to account for inflation previously. When this is done, it will still be the lowest in-province tuition rate in all of Canada. The grand total of four years in college will be less than half what some American students end up paying for a single year at an Ivy League school. That is far from unreasonable – although feel free to question how reasonable Ivy League tuition rates are. Furthermore, the few people that this tuition raise will actually effect – the poor – will be provided assistance in loans, which in part are possible from the increased tuition and also from listening to the protesters complaints.

As for the assertion that education is a right and not a commodity, that’s not entirely true. Education is an investment, if not of money then of time and effort. As it stands, higher education tends to be a greater investment than primary or secondary education, and that greater investment is often reflected in an increased investment of capital. Sure, countries like Finland have free college-level education for their citizens. They also have double the tax rates of Quebec. That is not a coincidence. The fact of the matter is that Quebec students are still being afforded extraordinarily inexpensive higher education despite the tuition hikes. Unfortunately, in demonstrating an unreasonable amount of hostility and immaturity, those same students appear to lack the qualities supposedly possessed by the type of individual who would attend an institute of higher learning.