Protests mark Quebec's attempt to hike tuition fees

Mon May 7, 2012 2:27pm EDT
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By Leila Lemghalef

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Students unhappy about planned hikes to some of the lowest tuition fees in North America have moved out of the classroom and onto the streets of the Canadian province of Quebec in more than two months of protests dotted by outbreaks of violence.

With an outcry that parallels Europe's deep unhappiness with austerity, the students say the Quebec government's plans means they will leave university owing tens of thousands of dollars.

Supporters sport a flashy, red felt square to express that they are "squarely in the red."

"People study a whole diverse host of things, and do social work and community work after they study, and they shouldn't be beholden to thousands upon thousands of dollars of debt that sometimes they can't repay," Douglas Smith, a striker and graduate student from New Jersey.

The 13-week strike is a challenge for the unpopular Liberal government, which must call an election by the end of next year. Polls show the Liberals are trailing the separatist Parti Quebecois, which wants independence for the province.

Some 180,000 people - more than a third of the college and university students in the predominantly French-speaking province - are striking over plans to increase annual tuition fees by C$1,625 ($1,640) over the course of five years, a 75 percent hike.

That means no classes for the strikers, and regular demonstrations, including a March 22 rally in Montreal that drew an estimated crowd of 200,000 people.

Quebec tuition fees are now C$2,168 a year, just over a third of the U.S. public education average cost of $6,400 and a fraction of the U.S. private sector average of $18,500. The Liberal government says the hike is needed to improve the higher education system.   Continued...

A protester marches during a demonstration against tuition fee hikes in Victoriaville, Quebec, May 4, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi