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The Liberal Government's New Proposal

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.


Quickly translated from the great post by Simon Tremblay-Pépin of IRIS here.

So the Charest government has made a new proposal to end the crisis.

Costed-out proposals

First, the government proposes the tuition fee increase be spread out over 7 years, as opposed to 5. This increase includes indexation to the rate of inflation during the two extra years; the increase therefore goes from $1,625 to $1,779. Economist Gérald Fillion explains this well on his blog.

The government also proposes offering $39 million more in bursaries, available to households earning less than $45,000 per year. The government says this increase in bursaries will cost nothing to taxpayers, as it will be funded through the existing tuition fee tax credit. The tax credit costs the government $140 million; so it will be reduced by nearly 30 per cent.

There's no doubt that bursaries are more interesting than tax credits (bursaries are immediate, whereas tax credits come after expenses). At the same time, we cannot consider these bursaries as having a completely 'new' impact on accessibility to higher education. In fact, families that have decided, “I will pay for my child's studies because I'll have access to a tax credit,” will now find that argument less convincing. This reduces - although doesn't eliminate - the impact of these new bursaries.

Moreover, on April 5, the Minister of Education announced an increase in loans that would be financed through existing funding to universities – funding which the schools would need to compensate for by seeking out more donations. Therefore, with these new proposals (like the previous ones) the government puts no new money on the table, it proceeds only to make a few accounting operations - some of them slightly advantageous - by moving funds around.

Non-costed measures

Two elements that the government did not focus upon as much in its 'overall solution' (because they were already presented on April 5) are in reality important steps backward. This includes measures the government wanted to put in place well before the student strike. In 2005, then-education minister Pierre Reid sought, without success, to install a Proportional Repayment Program (PRP). PRP is an essential element to all neo-liberal education system reforms. Because repayment adapts to students' revenues, they are encouraged to accumulate more debt, and to even allow fee increases to pass, since they have no visible impact on their current revenue. PRP therefore leads student debt to grow and allows tuition fee increases ad infinitum. This has been seen in England ,which has gone through successive fee increases since PRP was put in place. PRP is a passport to debt, and we have difficulty seeing how it can be part of any “solution.” On the contrary, it accentuates the problem.

As we have already written, the establishment of a Quebec University Oversight Commission (QUOC) has been proposed by the Liberal government since at least 2009. This body would replicate the evaluation and “quality assurance” mechanisms already seen in Europe, where university performance determines each establishments financing for both teaching and research. These new governance measures and a systematic evaluation program means an increase in the surveillance and control of professors under the pretext of “good management.” In reality, it serves to create a new, external expert body which would submit universities to new norms of “quality” and of “pertinence” determined largely by market-based concepts of the university. This not only comes from the neoliberal school, but also serves to add another level of bureaucracy to the university system.

Tuition fee increases, governance reform and the instalment of evaluation mechanisms are the three pillars of the Bologne Process, which oversaw the privatization of the mandate of European universities. We now see the same mechanisms appearing in Quebec.

In the end, on one side, we have accounting changes where no new money is added by the Ministry of Education. On the other, we have proposals that were already in the government's sights before all this began. Astonishingly, it is all presented as the result of compromise and negotiation.  

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