I’ve been following the student protests in Quebec with great interest. In case you missed it, students have been on strike for 100 days protesting tuition fee increases. The tuition fees in Quebec stand at $2,168 per year. The proposed increase is $1,778 over 7 years, which will bring the total fee to $3,946. Even at this new level, the tuition fees in Québec would remain the lowest in North America. The Montreal Gazette has a great summary of the events leading up to the conflict and what has happened since it began.
Do these students have reason to be up in arms about tuition fees? Sorry, but no. They pay less than half of what the rest of Canada pays and fees have been frozen for some time. Tuition has not even kept pace with inflation!
Do these students have a right to be upset about their financial prospects? Definitely. A lot of them will graduate with a crushing load of debt and no job available to help them pay it off. This Globe and Mail article gives a really great comparison of how things are different now for new graduates than they were back in 1984 when the article’s author graduated from university.
Should these students be protesting? No – at least not in the way the more radical groups are currently going about it. Many demonstrations have been peaceful and I think that’s great – we do live in a democracy after all. Peaceful demonstrations raise awareness of issues and can be a good tool for communicating concerns. However, setting fires, rioting and bullying students who chose to attend class (before classes were suspended) is unacceptable and counterproductive. Student groups need public opinion on their side. They don’t have it right now and they are not going to get it by paralyzing the Montreal economy and alienating Québec voters. The more extreme the conduct, the more the government should be forced to dig in its heels. To give in to rioters would be the equivalent of giving a toddler a cookie when they are throwing a temper tantrum – it reinforces the behaviour and encourages more of it.
Every generation has had its own issues to overcome. Fairly recently, it was the tech bust and resulting layoffs. Years before that it was equal pay for equal work and the glass ceiling. Earlier still it was the Great Depression. Suddenly being part of Generation X or Y doesn’t sound so bad.
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented people – some close to retirement, some new graduates, and some in between. For about 5 years in the early 2000’s, I was doing a lot of interviewing and hiring of new graduates, and finding people to hire was really tough. Yes, there were definitely good candidates to be found, but I also met many twenty-somethings who acted like selfish brats during the job interview – the time when I would expect to see a person’s good side! At first I thought it was just me expecting too much, but I heard several comments from my peers in other companies indicating the same thing. One friend went so far as to say that new graduates want work-life balance without the work part.
Perhaps a better approach than protesting would be to lose the entitlement mentality, buckle down and get to work. Learn as much as possible at school, and focus on skill development. Be motivated, diligent, and respectful. Have a strong work ethic and be a person of integrity. These qualities are becoming increasingly rarer as time goes on. A young person who graduates with these traits is in a much better position to secure employment than one who protests by setting off a smoke bomb in a subway system.