Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's hard to feel sorry for these Quebec students

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Despite all the whining and crying coming from post-secondary students in Quebec, it's hard -- really hard -- to feel sorry for them.

Students there are kicking up a fuss over planned tuition hikes, which has resulted in "strikes" by thousands of students to pressure Jean Charest's Liberal government to back off from the increase.

In a perfect world, tuition would be frozen forever and every student would have cheap access to the best education in the world. Since we're far from a perfect world, adjustments have to be made based on inflation and the economy in general.

In Quebec's case, students there have had it pretty good for decades. The average tuition in Quebec is around $2,400, nearly half of what it is in most provinces. That's right, half.

Charest plans to increase the tuition to $3,800, not next year, not the year after, but over five years. That's a jump of only $325 per year. If only post-secondary students in other provinces had it so good. Unfortunately, they don't.

The average tuition in Canada sits at around $5,000, which is also the average in B.C. colleges and universities. Ontario is the highest at around $6,000 per year.

And it's not just Quebec's tuition that is on a different level than the rest of the country. Student debt takes a similar line. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, student debt in Quebec is the lowest in the country at $13,000, nearly half of what is in the rest of Canada.

Still, students in Quebec are complaining. Why? Because like a lot of things in Quebec, the sense of entitlement seems to have become a normal part of the culture. Why pay the going rate when Quebec can rake in more than $7 billion in equalization payments for inexpensive tuition, universal daycare and other social programs most provinces have to fork out big bucks for? Because the scale has been manipulated for so long, any movement is likely to come as a shock and, evidently, it has.

So far, Charest is sticking to his guns and he has said he won't budge. With polls showing Charest's Liberals in a dead heat with the province's other political parties, now is probably the best time to make the move.

The tuition hike isn't likely to win him any votes, but neither is it likely to cost him an election.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2012 A17

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