Talks between students and the Quebec government aimed at ending months of protests over a proposed tuition hike collapsed on Thursday.
Four days of negotiations had failed to reach an agreement, provincial premier Jean Charest said after students presented what they called their "bottom line" position to the Quebec government.
"The negotiations have been suspended," he told a press conference.
"Obviously we're disappointed. I would have preferred to have come to an agreement but unfortunately... there is still a divide between the positions of the government and the representatives of the student associations."
Earlier, student leaders accused the government of breaking off the negotiations for partisan ideological reasons.
The president of the federation of Quebec college students, Leo Bureau-Blouin, said they had presented government negotiators with proposals "that would not have cost the government or taxpayers a thing."
"But for political reasons, the government could not accept our demands," he said.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, head of the more radical student group Classe, vowed to step up protests, targeting the upcoming Montreal Grand Prix on June 8-10, as the premier urged calm.
Charest, who is only the second Quebec premier to win three back-to-back mandates, added that ultimately a general election due within the next 18 months would allow all Quebecers an opportunity to have their say on education and other matters.
Since February, hundreds of protesters have been arrested and clashes have erupted sporadically as more than 165,000 students have refused to attend class and tens of thousands took part in demonstrations against the planned increase in school fees.
A tentative deal was reached after marathon talks a month ago but soon fell apart, and nightly protests in Montreal and other cities resumed.
Last week some 1,000 protesters were detained in some of the biggest mass arrests in the province's history, after the local government passed a law requiring that demonstrators notify police eight hours ahead of any protest.
This week's talks were touted as a "last chance" to resolve the conflict before the start of summer.
Going into the talks on Thursday, Nadeau-Dubois said the four student groups would present the government with their "bottom line – the absolute minimum acceptable."
The students had already rejected a government offer to reduce the tuition hike by C$35 per year, which would bring the total increase to C$1,533 over seven years instead of C$1,778.
"After 16 weeks of demonstrations, it's an insult," Nadeau-Dubois said.
"They refused to accept any increase in school fees," countered Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, who also decried Nadeau-Dubois's threat to disrupt the Grand Prix.
The government insisted that the students pay "a just part" for their education, in accordance with the "user pay" principle.
"We had hoped to find a solution (to the crisis) that was balanced, in the sense that we must also consider the taxpayers" who pay the biggest share of funding for Quebec's public universities, said Courchesne. AFP