Not me. I’m on Spring Break. But my Facebook timeline was filled with images from the student protests that took place today across Quebec. According to La Presse, over 300,000 students were on strike in protest of the proposed increases in tuition.
(Note, all institutions in the province of Quebec are public and receive the bulk of their funding from the provincial government, who also sets tuition levels.)
In Montreal alone, it is estimated that more than 100,000 students filled the streets and effectively shut down the city as they marched. You can find some of the pictures here and here. Apparently, it stretched over 50 city blocks at its peak. The major Montreal dailies live-blogged the event, as well as the upstart online publications, such as OpenFile Montreal. You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter, #manif22mars. It's being called "Printemps Érables."
The purpose of this post isn’t to debate the legitimacy of such a protest; the students have been criticized for complaining about a $325/year increase on annual (that’s per year, not per semester) tuition that is, on average, $3000 (the lowest in Canada).
Let’s take a moment to reflect on that number.
There a number of reasons why Quebec still has the lowest tuition in Canada, but the most important, I think, is that every time the government proposes or passes a tuition increase the students collectively and almost universally do things like this.
Going on a “national” strike is very French. France has a long an illustrious history of striking and shutting down Paris and other urban centers. Quebec students, despite our confused feelings towards the mother country, have adopted the practice of not the protest, but the strike. It’s proven effective. View the still-low tuition that Quebec students pay.
Young Quebecois have long been highly politicized, starting in the 1960s and the beginning of the separatist movement. Their status as a linguistic and cultural minority has long fed students’ feelings of solidarity and their political activism. While many may shallowly dismiss the strike as students simply taking advantage of an opportunity to skip school, ask yourself how many students at your institution would skip school and show up at any sort of protest?
When I was a PhD student at the University of Alberta, the undergraduate students were trying to organize a protest against tuition increases and were looking for support from the graduate students. Now, it wasn’t the most receptive crowd, but I asked if they had planned to coordinate with the other colleges and universities in the province, to make a larger statement. They sheepishly admitted that they were having trouble getting students at the U of A to participate.
Tuition is going up everywhere, outpacing inflation, except in one place. In that place, students, and not just some students or a few students but the majority of students, stand up and make their collective voices heard. Collective actions do matter.