Quebec offers expanded loan program to ease student unrest

Quebec is standing firm on proposed tuition hikes and instead announced new measures to offer students loan relief based on income.

Students say nothing short of fee freeze will suffice

The Quebec government is standing firm on propose tuition hikes, but announced new measures it says will ensure all Quebecers, regardless of family income, have access to university education.

The expansion of the province’s educational loan program was announced by Education Minister Line Beauchamp and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand in Quebec City on Thursday morning.

"Now is the time to put on the table a governmental decision to make sure that students that are worried by questions of accessibility and parents that are worried about these questions, don’t worry anymore," Bachand said.

New loan measures

Beginning Fall 2012, students whose parents earn $100,000 or less a year will qualify for a loan that will cover their entire cost for tuition and school supplies.

For students whose parents earn $60,000 or less, a family contribution will no longer be a requirement for loan eligibility.

In 2013, a new repayment schedule will be introduced that will allow students to re-pay loans at a pace determined by their income. The new schedule will be added to the deferred payment program already in place.

"We’re doing it now because we’ve listened. We’ve listened to people," said Bachand.

But even with the new measures to appease students worried about covering the cost of their university education, the government insisted it won't budge on its position on the hikes.

"The government of Quebec is firm on the decision to increase tuition," Beauchamp said.

Students displeased

Students marched in the streets of Montreal again on Thursday, blocking access to an SAQ warehouse in the latest of a series of demonstrations aimed at causing economic disruptions.

Several told the CBC the new measures do nothing to change their position and said nothing short of a full restoration of the tuition freeze will make them abandon the boycott and return to class.

Student organizations say they are protesting the hikes, which will increase the cost of tuition by more than $1,600 per year once fully phased in. They worry the increase will limit access for lower-income students.

Student groups said the government’s announcement was a "deception" and didn’t address the issue of mounting tuition costs.

"Increasing the debt to students and their families, I don’t think it’s a solution," said Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of the association of Quebec CEGEP college students.

"We are going to consult our members during the next days… we really want to have input from our members on how they feel about it."

Bachand said the government has opened the door to discussions with students on issues around accessibility many times, but the students haven’t accepted the offer.

"There’s a time to listen and there’s a time to discuss, but nobody wants to sit down and discuss these items with us. The students have refused," he said.