Tens of thousands of students in the Canadian province of Quebec have been protesting against a government move to raise higher education costs by 50 per cent over five years.
The demonstrations involving 181 student groups representing more than 170,000 students have sustained class boycotts, demonstrations and occasional angry confrontations with police for three months.
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Jean Charest, Quebec’s premier, offered on Friday to stretch out the planned tuition hike over seven years instead of five in a bid to appease the students.
The proposal would see students pay $255 extra per year instead of the $325 under his previous proposal, but the total would rise from $1,625 to $1,785.
“We are going to substantially increase the financing of our universities and we’re going to support our students,” Charest said, urging them to return to classes.
Beauchamp said: “I don’t believe that 50 cents a day [the cost of the tuition increase] should compromise their chances of getting diplomas this spring.”
The government’s plan to raise school fees to almost $4,000 as part of efforts to rein in a budget deficit provoked a massive backlash and a student walkout.
Police have tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to break up nightly protests.
After talks with the government broke down this week, students took to the streets, resulting in clashes with police and smashed storefronts in Montreal.
The Montreal Gazette newspaper reported that police arrested at least 85 protesters during a demonstration of an estimated 10,000 students late on Wednesday.
Local media reported that police used batons, pepper spray and percussion bombs to control the crowd.
Tuition in Quebec had been frozen since the province’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s in a bid to boost access to post-secondary education, but it began to creep up in the 1990s.
The government has also proposed adding $39m in bursaries and linking student loan repayment to income after graduation.