Ottawa

'Crisis averted': U of O, Carleton students opt in on fees

Student unions at Ottawa's two major universities say their members have voted overwhelmingly to continue paying fees for campus organizations, clubs and media.

Student organizations feared for survival under new funding option

Nearly four out of every five University of Ottawa students have opted to continue paying fees for campus clubs and legal aid. (Ian Black/CBC)

Student unions at Ottawa's two major universities say their members have voted overwhelmingly to continue paying fees for campus organizations, clubs and media.

In January, the Progressive Conservative government announced post-secondary students would be allowed to opt out of certain mandatory fees for the 2019-2020 academic year, part of wider changes to the way universities and colleges are funded in the province.

That drew criticism from a range of campus groups that rely on the fees for their survival.

But Sam Schroeder, advocacy commissioner for the University of Ottawa Students' Union (UOSU), said 79 per cent of the approximately 35,000 students the union represents have opted to continue paying toward clubs and a legal aid program, while 73 per cent supported the student newspaper and 72 per cent voted to continue funding the campus radio station.

"Crisis averted," Schroeder told CBC's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday. "They're opting into the stuff they're looking at and thinking, 'I'm going to participate in that,'" he said. "It was better than expected. We were really happy with that."

The university's student union won't have to make as many cuts as it feared 4:43

UOSU was expecting a 70 per cent opt-in rate across the board, so any fees that come in over and above that will go into a special fund that groups can apply for.

Still, the thousands of students who did opt out mean a significant drop in funding some organizations, including UOSU, which replaced the former student federation after that group lost its status over fraud allegations.

"Running [it] more efficiently helps, but obviously there are things we could do better for students if we had that additional 20 per cent," Schroeder said.

Sam Schroeder is advocacy commissioner with the University of Ottawa Students' Union. (Menaka Raman-Wilms/CBC)

At Carleton University, where student leaders said they were expecting an opt-in rate of just 50 per cent, 85 per cent of the undergraduate population opted in, according to Carleton University Student Association president Lily Akagbosu.

So far, 84 per cent of graduate students have opted in.

"These numbers show clear support for student unions and is a result of our work to inform students of services and campaigns that would otherwise be impacted," wrote Namrata Tilokani, vice-president of Carleton's grad student association.

Fees for some programs at Carleton remained mandatory, including the walksafe program, health and counselling services, athletics and recreation, and academic support.

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day and Andrew Foote

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