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Student groups at McGill, Concordia ramp up pressure against Quebec government tuition hikes

A week-long strike and protest are among the actions students are using to make their voices heard.


More than 20,000 students from Concordia University and McGill University went on strike last week, protesting tuition increases and language measures introduced by Quebec’s government in October.

Many chose not to attend class from March 11 to 15, while others opted to strike for one or three days. Angelica Antonopoulos, academic coordinator of the arts and science federation of associations of Concordia, called the tuition hike measures an “attack on access to education and pluralism.” She said the strike intended to increase pressure on the provincial government, which is now facing legal challenges from both universities.

Last month, McGill and Concordia launched separate lawsuits that argue the tuition increases contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Beginning in Fall 2024, out-of-province undergraduate and professional master’s students would see a $12,000 tuition increase while international students would pay a minimum of $20,000, with $17,000 being clawed back by the provincial government. French or francophone Belgian citizens are exempt. The Coalition Avenir Quebec has also given a partial exemption to Bishop’s University, Quebec’s third English-language university based in Sherbrooke.

Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry, said the measures are necessary to prevent the decline of French in Quebec, particularly in Montreal, and that the money would be redistributed to French universities that attract fewer out-of-province and international students – and receive less in tuition as a result.

Quebec has a history of successful student movements against tuition increases, most notably the Maple Spring protests that halted such measures in 2013. As an ode to the movement, hundreds of McGill and Concordia students wore red squares pinned to their jackets at the protest last week.

Student protesters painting MacKay Street in downtown Montreal with a red square. The students had the street shut down for a planned march from Concordia to McGill. Photo by Hannah Liddle.

While current students will not be directly impacted, many at Concordia communicated a sense of urgency and even anger about the increases. “We’re out here because any form of austerity is completely unacceptable,” said graduate student Liam Devitt. “Public education and public universities are a public good and should be supported by everyone.”

Both McGill and Concordia have reported that the increases would substantially affect their enrolment, reputation and finances. McGill predicts an annual revenue decline between $42 million and $94 million while Concordia has estimated a total loss of $15.5 million in revenues in 2024-25 and around $62 million over four years.

Read more: McGill, Concordia communities call on Quebec government to reverse new tuition and language requirements

The impact on Concordia’s bottom line would change the student experience, according to Ms. Antonopoulos, who is a local student. “Research opportunities might go away, fewer courses could be offered and student groups will take a heavy hit,” she said. “Life at Concordia would change for me, but more importantly for future generations of students who deserve the same quality of education that I’m currently getting.”

McGill’s lawsuit alleges that the new measures will create an “unconstitutional barrier to interprovincial trade thereby limiting student mobility, choice of university and access to education.” The university has also reported that it has seen a 20 per cent decrease in applications from Canadian out-of-province students this year over last. Kate Scott, a second-year student at McGill, said the measures likely would have prevented her from studying at McGill. “The difference between paying to come to McGill or going to Queen’s would have been absurd,” she said. “It’s upsetting to see people who I know in younger years who are now reconsidering.”

Kate Scott, right, and her classmate at McGill University showing support for the student protest. Photo by Hannah Liddle.

An additional government measure, introduced in December, mandates 80 per cent of out-of-province undergraduate students at English-language universities achieve intermediate French proficiency by graduation, was not challenged by the universities.

But neither the English-language universities nor the student movement are accepting the government’s framing of the measures as a language issue. “We’re not viewing it as an English versus French debate, it’s an issue of pluralism and accessibility ,” said Ms. Antonopoulos. “The Legault government has been very effective in maintaining its popularity by marketing French as a dying language and imposing austerity under the veil of language laws.”

Camila Casgrain-Rodriguez, a Concordia student from Quebec City, said the CAQ’s message is largely well-received by her francophone friends and family. “They say, ‘Well, they’re anglo, either way they’re not going to stay here, and are going to take our money and leave,’ but the reality as I see it is that people want to stay in Montreal and participate in life in Montreal … I don’t think people should be threatened if we have diversity.”

Students at the protest last week were not shy about framing the tuition measures also as an issue of racial discrimination. Hundreds marched through downtown Montreal chanting, “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” Ms. Antonopoulos said it is not a coincidence that French and Belgian francophone students, who are generally not as racialized as students from French-speaking African countries, for example, will continue to pay the Canadian tuition rate.

The students intend to continue pressuring the government throughout the year and are currently considering future actions.

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