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Students at Concordia University strike against tuition hikes

Concordia University has warned of 'devastating financial implications' if Quebec moves forward with a steep tuition hike for out-of-province students beginning next fall. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Concordia University has warned of 'devastating financial implications' if Quebec moves forward with a steep tuition hike for out-of-province students beginning next fall. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Students at Concordia University in Montreal are striking to protest tuition increases imposed by the Quebec government on out-of-province students.

Hannah Jackson, the Concordia Student Union's external affairs and mobilization co-ordinator, said more than 11,000 students are taking part in the strike from a variety of departments and the entire faculty of fine arts. Those students aren't attending class on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, she said.

Though the increases don't affect students currently enrolled at the university, Jackson said their impact — Concordia and McGill University say they've seen drops in out-of-province applications — will lead to the erosion of the school's funding.

"People are making the decision to not enroll in universities in Quebec," Jackson said, "which means that we have a reduced enrolment which means less money for universities in terms of paying professors, paying staff, student services like health services, student unions even."

Starting this fall, the government's tuition hike will see out-of-province Canadian students pay $12,000 per year instead of the approximately $9,000 they currently pay. Concordia and McGill have announced bursaries for out-of-province Canadian students to cover the difference.

But that doesn't go far enough for Jackson and the other students who supported the strike.

Jackson said, in addition to a government backtrack on the tuition hikes, she wants to see Concordia do more to fight for students. She also said she hoped the government would set a "more attainable" francization goal.

In December, the government announced students from the rest of Canada studying in Quebec will face a mandatory French test and 80 per cent of them will have to demonstrate an ability to converse or else the English universities could face penalties.

Raven Skyllas, a first-year Concordia student who was striking on Wednesday, said she worries about the future of the university.

"There are thousands of students who now cannot afford to attend Concordia next year," Skyllas said. "This is ruining access to education in Quebec and that's why we need to take a stand now."

Vannina Maestracci, a Concordia spokesperson, said the university respects the students' right to protest but that those who want to attend class should be able to do so.

"As far as the tuition increases go, we are saddened to see that the protest is aimed at the university — who did not make these decisions," she said.

"In fact, the university has clearly stated throughout the fall its disapproval of the tuition measures and has worked and continues to work hard to reverse them while trying to find solutions so that higher education remains accessible to all."