More tuition protests took place Saturday in Montreal, as some student groups debated the merits of a Quebec Liberal government offer that could defuse the two-month-old conflict over education costs.

Several hundred people gathered at Parc Emilie-Gamelin in Montreal Saturday night before a nighttime march, as they had done for the last several days.

The province's three main student groups said they were planning to meet to decide whether to accept a proposal made by Premier Jean Charest on Friday. 

Charest offered to stretch the planned tuition increase over seven years, rather than five, and pledged to "enrich" student bursary programs.

Student groups immediately rejected the idea, and called the offer "an insult" as tens of thousands took to the streets of Montreal late Friday night to protest.

But on Saturday, student groups indicated they would review the proposal, despite its rejection by many.

The offer includes some positive elements, such as promised improvements to the province's bursary program, said Martine Desjardins, president of the Quebec Federation of University Students.

"We need to look more closely at the offer, and perhaps submit a counter-offer," Desjardins said.

35 arrested Friday night

Police declared Friday's march illegal after some protesters threw rocks and bottles at them. There were also some incidents of vandalism, including damaged cars and smashed windows.

Police arrested 35 people, but say most of the protesters were peaceful.

Student Nicolas Dagenais said violence was not encouraged, or welcomed.

"I saw earlier there were two broken windows, and the people who did these acts were booed by the demonstrators," he said.

Almost every day for the past 11 weeks, students have protested plans by Quebec government to boost tuition fees by $1,625 over five years.

Earlier Friday, Charest said the provincial government is willing to implement the increases over a longer period in an attempt to come to an agreement with students and end the protests.

That would mean instead of annual increases of $325 for five years, tuition would rise $254 for seven consecutive years, for a total of $1778. The new amount includes future increases indexed to the rate of inflation. The Liberal government also said it would review and increase the loans-and-bursaries program.

Education Minister Line Beauchamp told reporters the increases would only work out to only $177 a year, or 50 cents a day, after factoring in the income tax credit on tuition fees.

The government's proposal includes:

  • Spreading the tuition increase over seven years instead of five.
  • Adding $39 million in bursaries.
  • Linking loan payback schedules to income after graduation.
  • Creating a special council to oversee management of universities.
  • Periodically evaluating the effect tuition increases are having on students.

Some students promptly announced they would protest in the streets again — for the fourth consecutive night — after hearing the offer of concessions and said the theme this time would be, "It’s not an offer, it’s an insult!"

Student leaders have not yet issued an official response to the offer. The proposal will be discussed by members of student associations, who will start voting this weekend on whether to accept the offer and return to class.

About 170,000 students are still avoiding their classes as part of the series of tuition protests. They want a tuition freeze.