Students close Quebec colleges

November 22, 1996

QUEBEC students have won a victory in their running battle against the introduction of tuition fees and cuts in the Canadian province's 48 junior colleges in advance of the December budget.

Education minister Pauline Marois announced that colleges would remain tuition-fee free until the end of the government's term of office, more than a year away, and that university tuition fees would be frozen except for foreign and out-of-province students.

But she unveiled a plan to raise money from students who fail two or more courses by charging them Can$2 per hour course time repeated.

College student protests had forced half the junior colleges to close since October 24. The colleges, which are 90 per cent government funded, still face cuts of up to Can$150 million out of a budget of over Can$1 billion (Pounds 417 million).

The protesters have kept a high media profile especially in Montreal, where most of the 30,000 college students live. Students have routinely clogged city streets in rush hour. They have held political science classes on roads, blocked off gamblers from the casino, and besieged the offices of the premier and education minister, and two weeks ago 3,000 students turned up at the provincial legislature.

Students from the most militant school in Montreal for days occupied a whole floor of the provincial office of industry and commerce after escorting office staff out.

Teacher unions, social action groups and Montreal University students have supported the protesters with a 48-hour strike.

An education ministry spokesman said students should have waited until December's budget before protesting. The students disagreed.

"December would have been too late," said Catherine Asselin, 20, a spokesperson for the student protesters. She says the continuing campaign on tuition fees and budget cuts has been the only way to "shake things up".

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