The Parti Québécois government is proposing to invest nearly $1.7 billion in university budgets over the next seven years.

Government officials in attendance

  • Pauline Marois, premier
  • Pierre Duchesne, higher education minister
  • Marie Malavoy, education, recreation and sports minister
  • Léo Bureau-Blouin, youth parliamentary assistant to the premier

The proposal is at the centre of debates at the province's higher education summit this afternoon.

The plan would see university budgets gradually increased – though most would not receive the increases until 2015.

The PQ's budget has already proposed cuts to universities for the next two years.

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault said the cuts are "the elephant in the room."

Merely hours after the beginning of the long-awaited higher education summit, the Quebec government has already agreed to create a provincial university council.

Several groups attending the meeting voiced their support for the creation of a council to oversee the quality and governance of post-secondary education in Quebec.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne have officially launched the higher education summit. They say they hope to put to rest the issues at the core of last spring's student crisis.

The Quebec government has made three suggestions, which will be up for debate over the next two days:

  • Adopting a law to create a framework for universities
  • Creating a provincial council of universities
  • Reviewing universities' accountability in their budgets

"The higher education summit was one of my first commitments when I was elected. It is an occasion to turn over a new leaf and move forward together. The following two days will be very important. We will define the basis of Quebec's future," said Marois.

Following the opening address this morning, representatives from every group invited to the summit shared their views and expectations on the future of post-secondary education in the province.

About 350 people from a slew of different organizations are attending the meeting.

The summit's first day will focus on four principal themes: quality of teaching and university governance, research and collaborations between institutions, evolution of university financing and finally, strategies to improve accessibility to universities and drop-out rates.

The summit is expected to end around 9 p.m. Monday and will resume tomorrow morning.

Top Maple Spring leaders ready to talk

Despite boycotts from several organizations, including the more militant student union group ASSÉ, a key player in last year's student crisis, most groups said they were willing to join the summit and negotiate.

Global university revenues in Quebec: $5.6 billion

  • Quebec government: 55.7 per cent
  • Government of Canada: 11.8 per cent
  • Other government bodies (i.e. municipalities): 1.8 per cent
  • Students: 15.8 per cent
  • Donations, non-governmental subsidies and foundations: 5 per cent
  • Other revenues: 9.8 per cent

The Quebec University Student Federation (FEUQ) and the Quebec College Student Federation (FECQ) are both attending the two-day meeting.

FEUQ president Martine Desjardins said people attending the summit will have to discuss several issues — not just financial problems.

"We will have to step away from tuition fees to have a discussion. If not, I tell you, we might be walking around in circles today. We will have to talk about financing, governance, quality of education, objectives and needs," she said.

Éliane Laberge, spokeswoman for the FECQ, said her aim is set on creating a forum where discussions can carry on after the summit.

So far, the summit yielded little-to-no debate and no large protests.

Vandals target education ministry offices

Several acts of vandalism were committed at the offices of people taking part in the summit.

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The education ministry's building on Fullum Street was sprayed with red paint early Monday morning. (CBC)

Pierre Duchesne's office building in Beloeil and Léo Bureau-Blouin's office in Laval were sprayed with red paint.

Vandals wrote in white outside the offices of the minister responsible for Montreal Jean-François Lisée. Several windows were also broken.

Walls and windows at the education ministry's building on Fullum Street, were also a target of vandals.

No one was arrested.

Summit sparks few protests on first morning

About 20 protesters walked quietly along Notre-Dame Street in Montreal's Griffintown neighbourhood, near L'Arsenal, a large repurposed gallery warehouse where the summit is taking place.

The protesters quickly dispersed into smaller groups who marched in different areas of the city's downtown core.

Montreal police said they were ready to face any possible upheaval if things were to get out of hand near L'Arsenal.

Authorities say they do not expect to have to close Notre-Dame Street to traffic unless a large protest takes place.

Pierre Duchesne said there is no need for protesting the summit.

"We didn't walk into a confrontation and we are not in the midst of a crisis," he said. "We had a crisis last year. We are not in a crisis now. We managed to defuse that."