Sudbury

Groups seeking answers about student fees at post-secondary schools

Many student groups are concerned about recent provincial changes to post-secondary affordability, including what it will mean to have students opt-out of student fees.

Ford provincial government making sweeping alterations to tuition costs, student loans and fee payments

Many student groups across Ontario say they are concerned about recent provincial changes to post-secondary affordability.

The Progressive Conservative government is making sweeping alterations to tuition costs, student loans and fee payments.

One of the changes is to the fees students at college and university pay up front for campus services.

Depending on the school, some student fees could add up to as much as $2,000, with students paying for some services they may never use or organizations they don't support.

According to Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, post-secondary student can now choose which student fees they want to pay.

According to the ministry, "fees used to fund major, campus-wide services and facilities or fees which contribute to the health and safety of students are deemed mandatory, and will remain a part of the fee structure. Essential campus initiatives include: walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support."

The government has not provided a complete list of which student fees will be mandatory and which will be optional.

That's why many schools, student organizations and post-secondary advocacy groups are seeking clarification.

Abdullah Mushtaq is the director of advocacy for the College Student Alliance, which advocates for student associations at colleges across Ontario, including Cambrian College in Sudbury. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Abdullah Mushtaq is with the College Student Alliance (CSA), which advocates on behalf of student associations at colleges across Ontario, including Cambrian College in Sudbury.

He says that ancillary fees help puts student associations together at each post secondary school.

"That's what builds them, and without that students could be losing a lot of services that they rely on."

Mushtaq cites examples like campus food banks, breakfast programs, scholarship or bursary help, and academic appeals.

"So many services that students don't realize that they count on the student association to do, but it's there and they do it anyways," he said.

Mushtaq says that by allowing students to opt out of student fees, it will only weaken the position for students themselves.

Financial hit?

Groups like the CSA are still waiting on answers from the government about what the financial future will look like for campus organizations that are considered non-essential.

"[The government doesn't] really have a lot of answers. We're still waiting on that." Mushtaq says he does think these groups may have to take a financial hit since they won't be seeing the same level of funding as previous years.

Mushtaq also says that the provincial government hasn't even provided its criteria for what would deem a campus organization as essential, or the student fee mandatory.

"Because of that students actually don't have transparency on what fees they will be able to opt out and which one's they won't be able to opt out of."

He says that safe spaces on campuses are funded by student fees, and that is leaving some post secondary students feeling vulnerable.

"Safe space for example for LGBTQ students, Indigenous student, services like that which I think are a big part of not only the campus but also the community."

Cambrian's safe spaces safe

Cambrian College spokesperson Dan Lessard says the school is also seeking clarification on which students fees will remain mandatory.

However, he added that the school's safe space for LGBT students, as well as the Wabnode Centre for Indigenous Student Services, are both funded by the college and not through student fees.

This means neither sites at the Barrydowne campus will be impacted by the fee changes.

It's unknown if the safe space for Laurentian University's LGBT population is affected by the changes to student fees. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

There are three designated safe spaces on the Laurentian University campus in Sudbury: the Pride centre, the Women's Centre and the Indigenous Student Circle. Student fees goes toward supporting these locations.

Kathryn Kettle is a Laurentian University student, who is also with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. That group advocates for 150,000 university students across the province.

OUSA is concern about the negative impacts that these province-wide changes will have on students and families, particularly when it comes to student loans and loan repayment.

Kettle says the advocacy group is also seeking clarification from the government about which student fees will fall under which category.

More information needed

"We really need to find out more about how this affects us because at this point in time we really don't know."

"Since we don't know which fees will be mandatory and which ones will not be, and what will be deemed essential for students we can't predict or compensate for these changes at this point in time."

She adds that school's student unions are now trying to highlight to students the importance of services they offer.

"Students often don't recognize all the services that the different student associations provide to them." Kettle adds that there are many services that impact the experience and quality of post-secondary education.

Student unions advocate on behalf of students at the municipal, provincial and federal level, as well as the university level.

"With students able to opt out of those fees they're losing that representation that they can achieve through these student unions."

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 14 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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