Something very important is happening in the streets of Montréal, in streets all over Québec, and I think it's about time I wrote something in support of this movement.
From the time that I was in university several decades (!) ago, the battle cry has been for free tuition at the university level. The two parties who have traded power back and forth since then have done nothing to make that happen. Indeed, quite the opposite is true, as we can see from the current Québec government's plan to increase tuition fees by $325 per year for the next five years. We're rapidly moving toward a position that leaves students mired in debt for many years after their graduation, to say nothing of those whose access to higher education is severely challenged, if not blocked, by the higher costs of everything, including tuition fees.
The student movement and its supporters are showing their solidarity by wearing little red squares pinned to their shirts or jackets. This symbol has longer roots in the anti-poverty movement in Québec (read about that in French here). I'm still looking for my source of felt to make one for myself, but am wearing the electronic version of the red square until then. Student strikes and massive and peaceful demonstrations are also showing the government and the general population that this is the wrong thing to do. The government doesn't seem to be listening, and I hope it will pay the price for that in elections that are expected soon. I for one will be voting for a candidate who can articulate a position on this issue (and others) that best represents my own.
I'm sure there are people out there who find our fighting over what seem like small amounts of money, especially in comparison to the costs of education in some other places, quite ludicrous. I refuse to adjust my expectations of my society to what happens in the US: I won't accept exorbitant tuition fees just because that's what Americans pay in their universities. I would rather expect free tuition because that's what the Swedes and the Finns have.
We need to see education as part of a larger social contract. We offer free tuition and programs to provide financial support to students so that they will develop skills and knowledge that will benefit our society. And yes, a society benefits from all of the diverse subjects studied, from art and philosophy right through to accounting, engineering and medicine.
I'm done with my formal education, but I am not done with my responsibility as a citizen to contribute to the development of skills and knowledge. Don't cut my taxes and impose a burden on students. Use my taxes to better our society by ensuring that the next generations have free and free (libre et gratuit) access to higher education.