Quebec student group CLASSE presented a two-phase counter offer to the Quebec government Thursday morning which would culminate in the total elimination of tuition fees by 2016.
"I believe it is a plan that is responsible, a plan that is concrete . . . which is part of a vision that is much more promising for Quebec than what is proposed by the Liberals," said CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
CLASSE, often described as the most militant of the three major groups involved in the student strike, presented the plan at a news conference in Montreal.
The group has maintained it won't accept any offer that includes a tuition hike and is pushing for the eventual elimination of the fees altogether.
As an immediate solution to the tuition debate impasse, the group proposed a reduction in the amount of money spent on research and publicity by the province's universities, a salary freeze for the institutions' top administrators and the scrapping of major infrastructure projects like satellite campuses.
"The money that students invest in the universities should serve to finance activities fundamental to the universities . . . like teaching, which is the primary activity for us, " Nadeau-Dubois said.
He said the changes would create an "equilibrium between the expenses in teaching and research."
CLASSE called for a public forum to discuss the role of universities and university financing in the province.
Tax the banks
To pay the full cost of eliminating tuition fees for students, CLASSE called for "the restoration of the capital tax on financial institutions."
It proposes a tax of 0.14 per cent per cent this year that would rise to 0.7 per cent by 2016. The tax would generate $400 million, "the exact amount of free school," Nadeau-Dubois said.
The government's offer, presented last week, includes spreading the $1,625 tuition increase over seven years instead of five, adding $39 million in bursaries and the creation of a special council to oversee university management.
The 43 student associations that make up CLASSE unanimously rejected that proposal during a meeting last weekend.
"It's only a cosmetic offer in which the government makes technical differences, but in fact there is no movement, no compromise," Nadeau-Dubois said of the government's offer with respect to the fee hikes.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp said the offer by CLASSE is essentially the same position it has maintained all along and therefore isn't helping to find a solution to the impasse. She said the government was prepared to adjust its position by staggering the hikes over longer period.
Still not at the table
Talks broke down between the government and the three student groups last week after CLASSE was expelled from the discussions.
Quebec's other two major student groups – FEUQ and FECQ, which represent university and college students respectively – refused to be at the table if CLASSE wasn't represented.
The government called off talks after the other two student groups offered to give up some of its seats so CLASSE could be present.
FEUQ and FECQ presented their counter offer to the government earlier this week in a similar news conference.
The student federations' proposal includes the creation of a committee to oversee the management of universities and a plan to analyze the relationship between universities and private enterprise. It also calls for a five-year moratorium on the construction of a new campus for the University of Montreal.
CLASSE said the propositions were complementary and included many of the same points.
"I think everyone right now is working in the same direction," said Nadeau-Dubois, adding the group wanted to take more time to present their offer and that's why they didn't announce their proposals with the student federations.
"We think it's absolutely not a problem for the student movement to intervene two times in the same week. It only gives more choice for Madame Beauchamp."
Students have staged nightly demonstrations in the streets of Montreal since the talks broke off.
The demonstration planned for Thursday evening, titled "in underwear for a transparent government," is being billed as clothing optional.
A Facebook page promoting the event however advises that police will be present and full nudity won't be tolerated.