18 March 2012

Red Square

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.


John Woolfrey said...

I was looking for an argument that might make me more sympathetic to the motives behind the strike. I didn't find it here. Can you do better?

Ken Monteith said...

I can't pretend to be the spokesperson for this movement, but I can point to their own expressions of the reasoning behind their actions:
I would particularly recommend the section on whether or not free education is possible:

I believe that we can make some choices as a society to share what we have (progressive taxation of revenues is an excellent equitable way to do this) in order to help others and to make our society better. Our society is better with accessible education, and not just the kind that gets you a job as a cog in the machine producing things we don't need by depleting the resources of the planet. Art is important. Philosophy is important. And most important of all is that those who are born with a head start in terms of the resources of their families don't get to have a monopoly on this wondrous thing that is education when we would all be better off if everyone thirsting for knowledge could get it.

Our society is not better, in my opinion, when we sacrifice things like education in order to protect the wealth of the few by trying to mimic the ridiculously low tax rates of our neighbour to the south.

John Woolfrey said...

Thanks. I'll check out these links.