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Jean-Michel Landry, Berkeley PhD June 15, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/352504/la-part-de-l-etudiant
After three months of protests, an incalculable number of marches and as many debates, we would be tempted to believe that, on higher learning and its financing, everything has been said. But at the heart of this vast debate, there lies a black hole, an opaque element. This opaque element is what we have called the students’ “fair share.” So what is exactly this famous “fair share?”
We know that when the supporters of the tuition hikes invite the students to “do their share”, they hope to see them cover a larger part of the cost of education. To this, the hikes’ opponents answer that student “will fully do their share” by contributing to the financing of the university network as soon as they will obtain a job and dispose of, through this, a taxable income.
The “share” of the student appears, thus, as a financial contribution necessary to a good financing of Quebec’s educational system. It would be to know if this “share” must be paid by the student in the form of tuition or rather through taxing incomes.
However, reasoning this way is equivalent to skirting around on what is, regarding student contribution, most important. Because their “share”, students do it, first and foremost, by giving it their best in class - and not by paying some bill. The first task of the students, the want that counts before anything, is not investing in their studies, but investing in themselves.
The Double Task
They’ll tell me: “Of course students must take advantage of their studies, but that does not prevent them from working nights and weekends to gain something to pay for the education they receive.” But it is here where the problem lies. We persist in believing that obligating students to work (albeit part-time) on top of their scholarly duties has little or no impact on the quality of their training.
The reality, however, is completely different. By demanding that Quebec students do their “share” in financing education, we prevent many of them from engaging themselves without constraint in their studies and thus getting the most out of the resources that, collectively, we put at their disposal.
Let’s say it: the imposition of tuition – without talking about the raise – directly harms the effort put into learning and, consequently, the quality of education. Because too often students must assume the double task of working/studying to manage to pay their “share” And we will have to admit it one day or another: pursuing post-secondary education and working to assume the costs constitute diverging imperatives, if not contradictory ones.
If, beyond the actual discord, our common hope is offering an education that, on top of being accessible to all, is also of the best quality for all, maybe we should profit from this lull to rethink what represents the “share” of the student. And if we agree that the “share” expected of the students is to draw all of the potential that lies within the learning opportunity that Quebec society offers them – by engaging their talent, their creativity, their audacity – we will have to conclude then that what we mean today by “fair share” is contradictory, or rather a diversion from sense, in regards to what constitutes the veritable contribution of a student to society.
If we want our graduates to “shine among the brightest”, as the current government has already affirmed, we would have to give them the means to achieve it. Offering Quebec students the possibility to invest themselves full time in their studies seems to me, in this regard, an essential prerequisite.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.