(Image from the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge)
The Québec student movement of the printemps érable of 2012, which began as a protest movement against proposed increases in university tuition fees, very quickly became a much broader social movement that in its most radical expressions questioned the very foundations of State-Capital in the province, with multiple resonances beyond Québec. If the movement then contributed to the fall of one government, and the suspension of the proposed increases, it continues to echo today in the demand for completely free education.
The demand again may seem limited, both in its aim and in the manner in which it is being presented and fought for. But that is to take a social movement in political isolation from all other actors/concerns/interests in society, and to fail to see that the many parts of the social system are profoundly interconnected, with education’s many relations to State-Capital being an obvious example. To struggle for a free education is thereby to challenge the dominion of profit/merchandise not only in education, but also potentially, in the whole of society, and thereby in turn to re-examine the very nature of education.
From the possible may emerge the impossible.
Part of the statement of principles, from gratuitescolaire.info …
Fight the knowledge economy
Restoring the university’s mission
In the neoliberal market of education, tuition fees constitute a disciplinary integration of young citizens into market logic.
By presenting education as a personal investment and asking young people to take up debt in order to increase the value of their labor power on the market, the students are forced to do a cost-benefit calculation in the choice their programs.
This logic tends to favor the modulation of tuition by program (increasing tuition fees in programs leading to more lucrative professions) and, more importantly, to transform the public universities.
The migration of students to programs perceived as lucrative tends to change the way university administrations consider the fundamental mission of education. Programs become market-oriented in order to attract more students while fundamental research, humanities and art programs tend to be marginalized, underfunded and even disappear.
For students, this vision of education creates a significant debt problem. Entering the labor market indebted in the tens of thousands of dollars is an important incentive to work. Instead of prioritizing an interesting job or working fewer hours, young graduates are required to maximize their income, in order to pay off their student debt.
Free education is a guarantee against the implementation of the neoliberal model of the knowledge economy.
For more information, see Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, the Association that lay at the basis of CLASSE : Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, the principal institutional actor in the student protests of 2012.
In celebration of the Québec student movement, a video from the photographer and film maker, Mario Jean …
Mario Jean chronicled the movement from its beginning. His website printempsquébécois offers a very powerful testimony to the beauty, determination and courage of the student movement.