So what exactly were those in Quebec fighting against? In 2011 the Quebec government announced plans to raise the student tuition fees from $2,168 per year to $3,793 by 2017. The government blamed the rise on the growing cost of students and, crucially, its own debt. It is clear that, while students benefit from education, society benefits from educated students even more. Thus, making students pay for Higher Education is both undermining of them, and of society as a whole (be it a Neo-Liberal one or otherwise). And yet it seems that the government of Quebec had planned to oppress its students even more, and force on to them even greater costs. This type of policy had already resulted in students being trapped in a cage of debt, with an average graduate from Quebec leaving with a debt of between $13,000 and $15,000.
This matters to us because these circumstances clearly parallel our own. All students currently studying in the UK have to comprehend just what leaving with unprecedented graduate debt will really be like. The picture here, however, is even worse than it was in Quebec. Instead of a rise of just $2,168 per year to $3,793, most domestic students saw fees go from £3,000 to £9,000 per year. For international students, who at UCL are paying up to £19,500 per year (and £29,000 per year to study Medicine), the situation is even more desperate. In the last week, the issue of tuition fees has, of course, been in the news. However, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg quoted by The Independent as stating: ‘Don’t worry, we’re not going to raise the tuition fees to £16,000’amid cries from the Russell Group and the Oxford University vice-chancellor to do this very thing, the situation is not reassuring. Clearly, some major commentators on the issue of fees are missing the point. We, as students, have proven in Canada that we can have a major effect on the political scene against rising fees and that is what we must also do here.
Furthermore, we should call for the NUS and other students’ organizations to seek wider trade union and working class support in fighting for the right to state-funded Higher Education. This is not least because poorer people are the ones who suffer most from rising Higher Education costs, making this a class issue as much as a student one. Also, we should fight cuts to Higher Education as a whole, so that we at least maintain adequate public funding of universities, even as tuition fees are reduced. From this, we may conclude that the principled point is that Higher Education is not just a public good, but a public right that should be fully funded by the state.
As the UK general election of May 2015 gets ever closer, it is clear that the time for mass protest against tuition fees as a whole, as well as the recent fee rise to £9000 per year, is now. Groups who stand resolutely against tuition fees, such as the Marxist Society of UCL, provide a platform from which protest can become even stronger, to the point where our aims can truly be achieved. Amongst all that has been said in this article, what we can learn most is from the students of Quebec. It is this: if students rise, the fees will fall.