Ever since the announcement of the tuition hikes there has been much talk about the attack on accessible education and its consequences for university students. Many students at the Cégep level do not perceive this issue as having tangible consequences, and so have not felt particularly concerned. However, this community will have to play an important role in the next year in order to contest the hikes. Even if this tuition fee increase appears very distant, it will have very real consequences for a large number of Cégep students, as well as for society at large.
To assert that the fight against tuition hikes does not concern collegian students is to stick one’s head in the ground. According to the Cégep Federation, nearly half of these students are registered in pre-university programs and many of these will be continuing on to university studies. In fact, in 2001, 79% of pre-university program graduates continued on to the university level without interruption. Even of those that opted for technical training, 22% chose to pursue university studies immediately after having finished Cégep. Additionally, many other technical students will opt for university studies after having spent several years on the job market.
An Already Difficult Economic Situation
The consequences of this hike are potentially quite important, especially if one considers the financial situation of Cégep students. With little income and the responsibility of rent, food and transportation, many are becoming increasingly indebted. In 2007-2008, the average debt of a Cégep-level Financial Aid beneficiary amounted to $8 519; the equivalent of 887 work hours at the present minimum wage of $9.60/hr. This is nearly $9 000 of debt before starting university studies, the price of which will contribute hugely to a negative financial situation.
Opposing the tuition fee increase is also a question of social solidarity, a particular view of education. Too often we brush aside these questions by pretending that a tuition hike is inevitable. But this assertion blocks us from being able to address the real debate at hand. Tuition fees had been frozen especially in order to give more opportunities for more people to access higher education, whereas this right had been previously reserved for the wealthier of society. To fight for university education is not solely to fight for university students: it is a fight for everyone’s education, for a more just society, and against the commodification and commercialization of education.
A Coming Assault on the Right to Education?
Cégeps were created in 1967 with the aim of steadily democratizing education in Quebec. The university tuition hike may seem far away to many, but it is a global vision of education that is being attacked, and that we must defend. To defend against this attack also means preventing those of the future, most notably the coming hike of Cégep fees. For a few years now, several relative fees are demanded for admission and certain other services. The threat of tuition fees is not a simple chimera. The Liberal Party of Quebec, in 2009, voted a resolution in view of consistently increasing fees. This position was quite controversial at first, but with a university tuition hike implemented, the government may feel quite at ease to continue with this project.
The tuition fee increase has serious impacts on Cégep students. At this time these are mostly indirect, but on the long term they will become much more tangible. Nonetheless, it is not in two or three years that we will have to react; it is now or never.