So we’ve talked a lot about the student strike and protests on the show (listen if you like, all episodes are archived here on the blog). It’s been on everyone’s minds, and the students still protesting are a reminder that this issue won’t be just swept under the rug, which is fully commendable, and speaks to the level of commitment that these students have. They’ve been called lazy, spoiled kids by the press, but if that were true, why would they be walking the streets every night? Not out of laziness anyway.My disclaimer? I don’t have to pay tuition. Seriously, if you have the chance to be the child of a Concordia professor, I highly recommend it. Ok, so I don’t pay tuition, I’ve still got hundreds of dollars in school fees, and the bill for my books every semester makes me feel faint. It seems weird to spend 80 non refundable, non exchangeable dollars on a course pack for a class that I will probably never apply in my career, and yet is required for graduation from my program. But I digress, this is not about me grumbling over things that seem useless to spend my money on, but that I can ultimately afford. Really, this Politics as Usual is about why I think fighting against tuition increases, striking and protesting are all good ideas. I’m very very lucky to not have to pay tuition, anyone who gets the chance to pursue higher education if they want to and can afford it is lucky. But it shouldn’t be a matter of being lucky really, I don’t think. Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to go on to university?
As far as I understand it, this previously 5, now 7 year increase plan has tuition going up by about 300$ a semester, which may not sound like that much, especially compared to the tens of thousands of dollars people pay in places in the States, but it is a lot of money to people who can only afford to go to school because they’re doing it in Quebec. That’s… well that’s 300 dollars… that sounds like a lot of money to me, maybe because I’ve never had a ton of money but man, you can buy computers for 300$! Maybe whoever is reading this can totally afford higher fees, but the truth is some people can’t. And coming out of school owing tons of money in loans is awful and stressful and can totally screw people for years.
Putting the money issue aside (for now at least), the handling of this situation by the media, the government institutions and the schools has been very disrespectful towards the student population, and makes me really uncomfortable. When I say schools, I guess I really mean school in the singular, because I don’t know what it was like for people who didn’t go to Concordia, and I’m talking about the experience I had at Concordia this semester. The stance the school took was kind of a “Well, you can do what you want, but we’re kind of going to try and proceed like any old semester while half ‘supporting’ the students but really not offering any kind of actual support/means of communication.” Unlike certain French universities, who shut down their classes once the students decided to boycott them. I guess I kind of understand the carrying on approach; it could have really fucked some people over to have the semester extended, etc. BUT (you knew there was a but coming), with classes still going on, there was a complete split between students who were striking and those who disagreed with the strike. The pressure fell on the professors, to try and be accommodating, or not, to attempt to find alternate ways to hold classes and to evaluate the performance of student’s who chose not to attend classes. What ended up happening on the student level was this sharp divide and I have to say it was pretty fucking frightening, the amount of hostility between people who are peers/classmates/fellow students. There was no way to communicate, it seemed impossible to find middle ground.
So the situation at school really freaked me out, but then there’s the picture painted in the media (Gazette, CBC, all the usual players) of the Starbucks drinking, pouty-lipped child who was the student protester. I mean, really?! That’s really disrespectful in my eyes, these people are adults, contributing members of society and they’re being patronized seemingly for the reason that their opinions about how much they should pay for school or how accessible their education should be are different? Agree or disagree with the hike, that is just plain rude.
And then there was the whole “It’s their fault because they didn’t vote”, which while unsurprising is totally presumptuous. Don’t pretend to know who voted and who didn’t, don’t take a statistic about a larger population and apply it to a small amount of that population because it suits you to do so. Even if people don’t vote in elections, there are usually reasons why, it is a conscious choice not to vote. But when thousands and thousands of people show up for a protest, trying to get their voices heard, and nothing happens? That’s really scary, and that’s not exactly how I think democracy should work. It took months of protesting for even negotiations to begin, and now the 5 year increase has been extended to 7 years? Ok, what about after those 7 years? Will tuition be frozen again? Or will it keep rising until education in this province is accessible only to the extremely wealthy? A smaller and smaller amount of people will have access to education, and that doesn’t sound so great in my opinion.
And where is the money that they’ll get from the hike going exactly? From what I understand, it would be going into building prisons and cutting taxes. If we’re paying this money to the government, shouldn’t we have a say as to where it’s going? I think so, I wouldn’t want my money to go into the prison system, I’d potentially want my money to go into making better the education that I’m paying for, isn’t that what I’m buying into? (Not rhetorical). Even the way money is spent within the school has to be better managed.
Countries like Sweden and Denmark, university is free. They believe that university-educated individuals will ultimately become better-contributing members of society, they’re like student shaped investments in the future of society, so society invests in their futures. Ok, we’re not in Sweden and maybe that’s not what you believe. But my friend broke it down for me like this, and it made a lot of sense to me. Ultimately it comes down to whether you think education is a right or a privilege. If you believe it’s a right, maybe think about picking up one of those red squares?
News: Line Beauchamp, QCs education minister has stepped down. What do you think, scapegoat?
Also, I want to hear from anyone who wants to write to us/comment/etc. Let me know if you agree with me, let me know if you disagree. Tell me if I need to fact check or I stepped out of line.
Stay tuned for Part II of this Politics as Usual, next week I’ll be rambling about stuff like police brutality, during the protests and in general.