Quebec Premier Jean Charest on Friday offered to stretch out a planned tuition hike over seven years instead of five in a bid to end an 11-week student protest that has included violent clashes.
The proposals 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.
The premier of the mostly French-speaking Canadian province and Education Minister Line Beauchamp outlined the Quebec government’s offer to student groups at a news conference in Quebec City.
“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 added: “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 double school fees to almost $4,000 as part of efforts to rein in a budget deficit provoked a massive backlash and a student walkout.
After talks with the government broke down this week, students took to the streets, resulting in violent clashes with police and smashed storefronts in Montreal.
Representatives of three student groups representing 180,000 students in the province seemed initially cool to the government’s new offer on Friday, saying that it would still place a large financial burden on students.
But they vowed to put it to their members in the coming days.
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 $39 million in bursaries and linking student loan repayment to income after graduation.
[Students protest on April 26 in Montreal, Canada, over Quebec’s plans to raise tuition via AFP / Rogerio Barbosa]