By Robin Reid-Fraser
Following the Parti Québécois’ election win last September with an election promise to cancel the planned tuition hike and engage in a summit on the state of higher education, students weren’t completely sure what to expect from the process. Certainly there were many important issues and questions that had come up over last year’s strike that were worth talking about in depth.
That being said, at the Nov. 1, Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Legislative Council, we adopted a mandate to consult our members on 10 topics; university financing; tuition fees and alternatives; research; financial aid and student debt; university governance; the role of university in society; out-of-province and international student needs; anglophone students in Quebec; quality of education; and structural barriers to post-secondary education.
A week later, the government announced its plans for the Summit structured around four themes; quality of teaching; participation and accessibility; financing and governance; and research as a part of the development of Quebec.
SSMU’s approach was multi-pronged, and began with the creation of a website with information on the different topics and space for comments and discussion boards. In conjunction with that, we held three open discussion sessions at the end of November for students, staff and faculty to come and share their views.
The discussion sessions, despite low attendance, were extremely interesting. Rather than getting into debates about tuition rates or who should finance education, they focused more on what students at McGill wished to get out of their education and time in Montreal.
One conversation focused on the relevance of the material that we learn here, how it relates to the real world. That in turn led to a discussion about the siloed nature of the different faculties across the campus, and how the lack of a common language or way of framing issues – particularly those political in nature – can prevent campus-wide engagement on those issues from moving forward in a constructive way. Many students present expressed a desire for chances to work together across faculties and explore potential solutions to the many challenges our generation is facing.
Another issue raised by many was the insufficient number of opportunities to learn and practice speaking French outside academic classrooms. There was a clear desire for more chances to engage the broader Montreal community, and many students indicated a wish to stay during the summer. However, a lack of French is an impediment to finding summer employment as well as simply being able to carry on day-to-day conversations.
These discussions provided an important basis for the preliminary report that we produced at the end of the semester, and recommendations that we brought to TaCEQ, our Quebec-wide student association, in our submissions to the themed meetings. Since then, we have sent out surveys on each topic attached to the Education Summit website. We are currently collecting the answers for a more complete report, and depending on the process leading out of the Summit on Feb. 25 and 26, will use them to provide further feedback.
Robin Reid-Fraser is the VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University.