04/11/2012 02:28 EDT | Updated 06/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec students stage rolling protests and call for five-year budget freeze

MONTREAL - Quebec students took to the streets in a series of rolling protests Wednesday in their latest salvo against the province's planned tuition hikes.

Hundreds of chanting protesters marched throughout the day during hourly demonstrations in Montreal, where they criss-crossed the downtown area and paralyzed traffic.

The striking students have staged protests almost every day for more than two months against government plans to increase university tuition by $325 a year over five years.

Several of the demonstrations have led to clashes with police — including a tense confrontation Wednesday.

Officers sprayed chemical irritants to disperse protesters after several dozen students blocked access to a National Bank of Canada building near Old Montreal.

A 23-year-old man was arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer during the incident.

The walkout has already been called the longest student strike in Quebec's history and it remains unclear when it will end. The students have been warned their semester might be cancelled if they don't get back to class.

The hikes would still leave Quebec with among the lowest annual tuition rates in Canada, at around $3,800. But protest leaders say the increases would limit access to affordable education.

The Quebec government, however, has steadfastly refused to back down from imposing the increases despite the pressure.

Education Minister Line Beauchamp has maintained that her role is to ensure students who want to continue their studies during the strike are able to do so.

She noted that the law has been on their side, referring to several students who won legal challenges that gave them access to their classes during the strike.

Schools that have kept classrooms open during the walkouts are also facing criticism.

Students at Montreal's Concordia University slammed their administration Wednesday for ignoring a strike vote and allowing classes to go ahead.

They noted that more than 12,000 Concordia students voted in favour of a strike over a month ago, but only a few courses have been cancelled.

Student leaders also proposed a series of cost-saving measures Wednesday that they said would allow the government to "cut into the fat" from university budgets, instead of forcing the province to increase tuition fees.

Two student groups say they've identified possible budget savings of $300 million over five years, through actions such as freezing expenditures on computers, communications and real estate.

The student organizations are also calling for university rectors to accept pay cuts.