Pop Quiz: Who should be footing the bill for higher ed?
Hi everyone! I’m very pleased to be joining the network as a writer after many years of reading and commenting (where you may have known me as delictuscoeli). As you might notice in my bio down below (aside from my awesome cat), I live and teach in Canada, so I thought I’d start off here with something close to home.
In the last year or so, the question of university funding in Quebec suddenly turned into a hot-button political issue when the Liberal government under Jean Charest decided to raise tuition for in-province students from $2168 per academic year to a little under $3793 per academic year over the course of five years. Note to readers in other countries: you are, in fact, reading those numbers correctly. Tuition rates, you see, had been frozen by the provincial government for 31 of the previous 44 years, with the fascinating result that in Quebec it actually cost less to go to university in 2012 than it did in 1968 (adjusting for inflation). The tuition hike was therefore proposed as a revenue-neutral way for the government to address universities’ chronic underfunding without worsening the province’s already dire finances.
Cue protests. Massive, occasionally violent and destructive protests. In fact, one of the student leaders representing nearly half of protesting students actually refused to condemn violent tactics in order to be admitted to the bargaining table. After several months of little headway, the Education Minister resigned, the student groups rejected a revised offer, and the government passed a controversial emergency law requiring demonstrations of more than 50 people to inform police of their planned route and prohibiting demonstrators from wearing masks.
Just as things started to look irresolvable, the Liberals, mired in other scandals, lost the provincial election to the separatist Parti Quebecois. New Premier Pauline Marois had sided with the student protesters as a part of her campaign platform, and the party even ran one of the student leaders as a candidate for the legislature. All of a sudden, the tuition hikes were abandoned, universities were made to pay back the extra tuition they had begun collecting, and everything was suddenly over. After months of controversy, we were immediately faced with a return to the status quo.
That is, until the new PQ government announced a new massive retroactive budget cut for all universities in the 2012-13 academic year, with another to follow in 2013-14. Insult to injury, I guess, with the added benefit that my home institution is cutting one hundred classes taught by adjuncts like me. I do idly wonder if, when the weather warms up, the students will be able to find themselves similarly inspired to action over the gutting of their educations?
Who do you think should bear the cost of higher education? How much should students be expected to invest in their own educations? What other barriers need to be overcome to make higher education truly accessible?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.