The New Proposal from the Government, April 27, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012


This text explains how the government's proposal of April 27 was far from a compromise.  Instead, the government will not release any new money for education and the measures that the government frames as compromise they have in fact been planning to implement for years.  So, when the government proposes to create a commission to look at the way universities are run, they have in mind to set up a more bureaucratized, more stifling and more neoliberal model of the university, precisely what the students and faculty have been fighting all this time.

The Government’s Proposal

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

Quantitative Measures

First the government proposed an extension o fthe hikes from 5 up to 7 years.  This hike takes inflation into account for the two extra years and thus increases the hike from $1625 to $1779.  Gérard Fillion offers an explanation on his blog.

The government also proposes to offer $39 million in extra bursaries which will be accessible to households earning less than $45 000.  The government claims that this increase in bursaries will cost nothing to taxpayers since it will be taken from tax credits for the hike in tuition fees.  Tax credits cost the government about $140 million and will thus be reduced by around 30% as far as the amount accorded.  The credit itself will go from 20% of the tuition fees paid to 16.5%.

No one can deny that the bursaries are more appealing than tax credits (the former can be accessed immediately; the latter is only accessible after the fact).  Nevertheless, we cannot consider the bursaries as having a completely “new” effect on accessibility.  Indeed, families that say “I will pay for my child’s studies, since I will have a tax credit” will now find the argument less convincing.  As we see it, this lessens the effect of the new bursaries.

On April 5, the Minister of Education already announced an increase in the loans financed by the financing plan of the universities – which they must compensate by seeking more donations.  Thus in quantitative measures, like those above, the government does not put any new money on the table, it simply derives from a few accounting operations, sometimes slightly advantageous, of funds transfer.

Non-Quantitative Measures

Two elements less emphasized in the government’s “global solution” since they were already presented on April 5 are in reality significant steps backward.  These are measures that the government wanted to put in place long before the student strike.  Already in 2005, Minister Pierre Reid sought, unsuccessfully, to institute Income Contingent Loan Repayment (ICR).  The ICR thus inflates student debt and permits an increase in tuition fees ad infinitum as the case of Englanddemonstrates, which has seen repeated hikes since the institution of this measure.  The ICR measure is a ticket to further debt, and we have a hard time seeing how it could be seen as part of any kind of "solution."  On the contrary, it will only exacerbate the problem.

As we have mentioned elsewhere, the establishment of a Commission d'évaluation des universities du Québec (CÉUQ) has been on the government's wish list too, since at least 2009.  It has sought to imitate the evaluation mechanisms and the "quality-assurance" that we find in Europe, where it is the performance of universities that determines their funding for teaching and research.  These new measures of governance and systematic evaluation mean an increase in the surveillance and control over professors on the pretext of "good management".  In reality, this means creating a new external power of expertise that could subject universities to new norms of "quality" and of "pertinence" largely determined by the market conception of the university, meaning the neoliberals' conception, and which would not pass up the chance to add another bureaucratic layer to the university apparatus.

The increase in tuition fees, the reform of governance and the establishment of mechanisms to evaluate continuous practices are the three pillars of the Bologna Process, which oversees the privatization of the mission of Europe's universities.  We see the same mechanisms appearing in Quebec.

In the end, we have on one hand accounting changes where no new money is added by the ministry, and on the other, propositions that have already been in the government's plans for a long time.  Strangely, the whole thing is presented as the result of a compromise and a negotiation.