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An uneven education burden

Concordia scholars on women and Quebec tuition hikes

Quebec’s tuition hikes are getting a lot of press, primarily because the province’s student population is aggressively opposing them. But many pundits and politicians suggest the hikes – which will amount to a 75 percent increase over five years – are simply common sense. Quebec students, they say, will still enjoy the lowest tuition anywhere in the country, even after the increase. Editorials in most of the province’s newspapers have supported the hikes, urging students to face reality and get over it.
 
This prompted two women’s studies scholars – Viviane Namaste, professor at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, and Gabrielle Bouchard, VP external of Concordia’s Women’s Studies Students Association – to write an official statement, arguing that the hikes will have a disproportionate impact on women because women are still economically disadvantaged in Canada. The two sat down to talk about their declaration.
 
Xtra: What prompted you to make this statement?
 
Viviane Namaste: We produced our declaration on the tuition hike in order to highlight the specific impact that raising tuition fees would have on women. Since women still earn 71 cents for every dollar men earn, asking individuals to pay more for their education would mean that, proportionally speaking, women pay more. 
 
Xtra: What was the most surprising thing for you in terms of the discussion around tuition hikes?
 
Gabrielle Bouchard: As we produced our declaration, the most surprising thing is not that this policy asks women to pay more now and to pay more later. One of the most surprising elements we found is that most of the discussion about tuition fees is a matter of numbers, budgets and financing. Of course, these issues are important, but we think that we also need to think about teaching and pedagogy. Raising tuition fees will impact the diversity of the student body, as students from lower-class backgrounds will face increased difficulties in accessing education. We see diversity as central to critical pedagogy: it is the sharing of different experiences and realities that encourages meaningful exchange, discussion and learning. We advocate social policy that facilitates a truly diverse student population in postsecondary education.
 
Xtra: Some people seem to simply be shrugging their shoulders and saying, “So what?” about tuition hikes. Why should they care? 
 
VN: The debate about tuition fees is fundamentally about the political priorities we choose as a society. Do we wish to ensure that everyone has the same access to learning, to critical thinking and to opportunity? Do we see education as a fundamental responsibility of the state? Do we think that Quebec has the financial and the intellectual resources to fund education properly? These are questions for all members of Quebec society.