Quebec student protesters need a lesson in economics: critics

Students protest against tuition hikes in Montreal. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi Quebec's protesting university students, opposing tuition hikes in the province, are garnering international attention.

A Canadian Press story from Saturday claims that, in the last few days, they've received coverage in French news outlets such as Le Monde and Agence France-Presse, in Australia and New Zealand on Al Jazeera, and in the U.S. on CNN and more.

Some are dubbing it Canada's version of the 'Arab Spring.'

Maybe, just maybe, the tuition hike issue is getting blown out of proportion.

Several Canadian pundits and analysts are now even questioning whether or not the student protesters have a grasp of the issue.

Law student Sandy White, a former aide to federal cabinet minister Christian Paradis, wrote an impressive op-ed piece for the Globe and Mail putting the tuition hikes in an economic perspective.

"The faculties that have opted to strike are not those known for their thorough grasp of concepts such as how inflation affects the price of goods and services; how to pay top teachers when universities are burdened by their own heavy debt loads; and the need for balanced state budgets," White wrote.

"A look at the lists of which faculties and student groups involved speaks volumes as one recognizes the intellectual and philosophical heft behind the strikers is comprised of those studying sociology, anthropology, geography, cinematography, and fine arts. Of the 160 university associations currently playing hooky, not a single group from the fields of commerce, finance, accounting, engineering, law, mathematics or administration is among them."

White adds that of the province's 460,000 post-secondary students, only 165,000 — or slightly more than 35 per cent — are striking and the number of those who actually voted in support of this action is likely less than 20 per cent of the total student body.

"When broken down, the $325 annual increase is less than $6.25 a week," he writes.

"At some of the bars where I have seen students celebrating another 'successful' day of protests, this is less than the price of a drink."

Martin Patriquin of Maclean's magazine explains that  low tuition rates don't equate to high levels of university enrollment.

"According to a study published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, about 30 per cent of Quebec's young people go to university, six percentage points below the Canadian average and more than 20 percentage points behind Atlantic Canada, where the average tuition is nearly three times that in Quebec," he wrote in a column published Friday.

Patriquin quotes University of Ottawa economic professor Ross Finnie who says Quebecers just don't see university education as an investment.

"It's kind of ironic," Finnie told Maclean's.

"The student groups are committed to social justice, yet they reduce the problem to simple affordability when it's so much more complex. There's not much evidence that people aren't going to university because of financial considerations."