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If fall university classes shift online, should tuition be cheaper?

Students may want a tuition discount if classes at Western University move online for the fall semester. The university says it's working on delivering a world-class education but won't be reducing tuition.

Some students say online learning isn't what they're are paying for

Western University says it anticipates a ‘mixed model’ delivery for its courses and practical experiences this fall, which will include virtual course offerings and on-campus experiences. Some students are calling for a tuition break, but the university says 'it is not contemplating tuition changes.' (Dave Chidley/CBC)

Faced with the prospect of having at least some of their course content delivered online for the fall semester, some university students are suggesting they should get a break on tuition.

Mateo Ferrari is a second-year business student at Western University. He's watched while the university had to quickly shift to online learning when the COVID-19 outbreak exploded in March. 

Ferrari has entered a lease to live in a shared house with his friends for the fall semester, but isn't yet sure how much of his class time will be spent in a lecture hall or in front of a computer screen. 

"If courses are mixed or fully online, I think we should definitely see a reflection on our tuition," said Ferrari during an interview on London Morning Tuesday. 

Western University is currently working out what format classes will take when the fall semester begins. 

"The goal is to deliver the highest quality education and learning possible balanced against the responsibility of maintaining a safe campus environment," the university said in a statement. 

The school is not considering altering tuition and promises a first-rate learning experience, no matter what the format. 

President Alan Shepard said in a statement posted online last week that he favours a "mixed model" of online and in-person classes. Although, his statement also warns that plans could change and that "we'll need to be nimble." 

But the idea to trim back tuition is one Kayla Weiler of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) says she's been hearing a lot from students. She says students are feeling pinched by everything from a summer job market that will have far fewer service positions to parents struggling through an economy crippled by COVID-19 restrictions.

"A lot of students feel that online classes are a decrease in the quality of their education," said Weiler. "Students do benefit from having that face-to-face instructor-student conversation." 

And while the CFS had been advocating for free tuition prior to the outbreak, Weiler sees the current situation as one that calls for student help beyond the $9 billion in aid promised by the federal government

"There are a lot of students who are reconsidering school in the fall," said Weiler. "We're hoping that things can be done to help students so that they can return to school." 

Students calling for quality

Bardia Jalayer, the president of the University Students Council at Western, said students won't accept any reduction in quality from online course content.

"I think we all know from being at home these past few weeks that it's a lot more difficult to keep people engaged online," he said. "The blended model is the goal, but it's by no means guaranteed at this point. If Western is expecting students to continue to pay for tuition, they need to offer the same — or better — quality for their courses." 

Weiler said many students are opting to take a year off, wait for September 2021 to roll around and see if by then things will be close to a normal university experience. 

But, Jalayer says others who've considered taking a gap year find it's an option that only raises a different set of questions.

"A year off, that often means work or travel, but we're not sure what either of those will look like right now," he said. 

The university will announce its final plans for fall courses by June 1.

Western University students Emma Van Dyk and Mateo Ferrari tell London Morning how they're feeling about the start to the upcoming school year this fall. 8:49

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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