As physical restrictions worldwide continue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students are expecting their academic year to involve distance-learning and limited university experience, with many campus services either shut down or moved to an online platform. This limited service access opens up a discussion on tuition and incidental fee costs. Many of the facilities shut down, and activities cancelled indefinitely, meaning many of the items included in the total non-tuition costs will likely not be delivered.
As highlighted by the vice-provost’s office, there are still student activities offered by the Hart House and the sport and recreation departments in respective campuses online. Some of these will be made available in-person, following provincial public health and policy updates.
For students at the University of Toronto Mississauga, the Athletics department fee has been reduced by 25 per cent, the sports and recreation by 30 per cent, the Hart House by 20 per cent, the Student Services fee by 35 per cent, and the Shuttle Services fee has been waived entirely.
Similar changes have been made to other U of T campuses, but the percentages vary. Students at the St. George campus had their Athletics fee reduced by 30 per cent, Hart House fee by 20 per cent, Student Life fee by 10 per cent, and their Student Services fee waived. The Scarborough campus has reduced their Athletics department fee by 40 per cent, the Sports and Rec fee by 30 per cent, the Hart House fee by 20 per cent, and the Student Services fee reduced by 25 per cent.
Additionally, certain student societies have also lowered their fees, but these vary according to student invoices, where the changes can be seen on individual ACORN accounts.
The Athletics departments are currently only offering online services such as online workout classes and nutrition discussions. Still, they will be on stand-by with in-person services following the lead of the government. Moreover, the Hart House will have limited openings with distancing requirements established to continue the arts, dialogue, wellness, and community engagement services.
It should be noted that the office of the vice-provost currently anticipates a full return by January 2021 and are therefore on schedule to charge total costs to students for the winter semester. However, in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 and, consequently, school closures, fees will again be reviewed for reductions.
In addition to universities’ financial relief efforts, student bodies across the country have also taken matters into their own hands to demand further cost reductions. In March 2020, University of British Columbia student Irem Atalay started a petition requesting her university lower costs after realizing she would continue to pay for services she could no longer access. Atalay’s petition currently has over 8,600 signatures and continues to grow.
A UBC spokesperson responded to this petition in an interview with CTV stating that tuition charges themselves cannot be reduced as they are “vital in maintaining the academic continuity and operations of UBC,” but followed government direction in reducing incidental fees.
A similar effort on behalf of “Students of U of T” started on change.org, addressed to U of T President Meric Gertler and Executive Assistant Morgan Russell. The petition requests further reductions, stating the differences between remote and in-person learning and their impacts on the quality of education as its primary reasons. The U of T student petition currently has over 4,500 signatures, nearing its goal of 5,000. There are also additional petitions on change.org on behalf of international U of T students, requesting tuition reductions or freezes due to the current uncertainty regarding study visas and travel.