Amidst failed negotiations between student groups and the Quebec government, I found myself reading this editorial related to Jean Charest’s decision of meeting with students halfway through their demands. I feel this article bears two highly incorrect assumptions regarding Quebec’s longest standing strike. Firstly, it purports Quebec as having the “lowest tuition fees by far”. While I do not contest this assertion, I do note that its role within the linguistic goal of this article is misleading, for it fails to mention that Quebecois citizens also pay the highest taxes in the land (and in North America if one wishes to make a broader statement of fact).
With this in mind, the question becomes clear: Is education really an entitlement in Quebec? My immediate answer would be yes. The logic behind entitlement, or as I have called it in the past, “expectation”, revolves around the idea of getting something back. The entitled party, which in this case is none other than the Quebecois tax payer, is no receiver of charity. Citizens pay taxes as frequently as they exercise mastery over their own lives, and the degree and quality of services is expected to match their contributions to the coffers of the state. No government services are ever free; the fees that are waived (or subsidized) in areas such as education and health care are direct user fees, but this does not mean that the cost for said services is non-existent. Under this rubric, the drive that propels the very action of the student movement in Quebec is neither an idealistic plea nor a cry from a spoiled youth; it is a call to receive a service that is commensurate with each individual’s contribution to service funds.
Additionally, the author of this piece commits to a second assumption: that individuals with an undergraduate degree WILL be employed upon graduation. This is false in both Quebec and Canada for a number of reasons. Firstly, an undergraduate degree does not necessarily guarantee graduates employment. In fact, recent reports suggest that youth unemployment goes as far as 14.7%. These reports also posit that individuals with undergraduate degrees are often forced to take employment in areas that are not related to their field of study, making any university training they may have irrelevant for their job-seeking efforts. Secondly, the acquisition of a Bachelor’s degree does not necessarily entail an increased return upon graduation. It was recently found that 18.5% of individuals with an undergraduate degree earn less than Canada’s median income of $37,002. It is important to point out that the author does refer to a fact that was echoed in this same report: that university graduates “collectively earned 40% more than high school graduates”. This number may seem benign and would otherwise support the idea that a university degree is worth paying more user fees for, but this amount does not account for salary discrepancies along fields of study, and fails to include added values such as student debts.
In this debate, and given the aforementioned facts, it is important to see subsidized education as both a continually paid-for service, and as a way of offsetting the proven difficulties students will have when they finish their studies and enter the job market. What the Charest government intends to do by raising tuition fees does not only go against the very principle of effective and just service provision, but it also defies the proven realities faced by students that enter the job market.