Thousands of Quebec students protest grant cuts

Thousands of students march through Montreal in protest against a government decision to convert $103M-worth of grants into loans.

Tens of thousands of students marched through Montreal streets Wednesday, demanding the government reinstate $103 million it took out of a grant program and put into student loans.

Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) and Fédération etudiante collegiale du Québec (FECQ) organized demonstrations in Montreal and Quebec City to denounce Premier Jean Charest's government.

Even though Quebec students pay the lowest tuition in the country, the federations want the full $103 million reinstated and say loans impose too heavy a financial burden.

"How do you start a family?" said Nick Vikander, of the Quebec University Students' Federation, as more than 10,000 people protested in downtown Montreal.

"How do you start a business? How do you get established in life?"

The average university student in Quebec pays a little less than $1,900 in tuition – less than half the national average, according to a 2004 survey by Statistics Canada. Student debt in the province is the lowest in Canada.

Students have been holding angry protests and some have skipped classes to picket outside their schools since the decision to cut bursary funding was announced.

Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has said he is prepared to return $29 million to the grant program next year.

He said Wednesday that students haven't paid attention to his offer, which would target students from low-income families who choose to study in arts and technical programs.

"I think students that will see that program will find it's more generous," he said in Quebec City.