The Student Choice Initiative (SCI) is finally live after the Ontario government announced it back in January, along with a 10 per cent tuition cut for all domestic students. The SCI gives post-secondary students the choice to opt-out of certain incidental fees through an online application. UTM’s online opt-out application is live on ACORN until September 18.
Students can opt-out of services provided by the university and student societies such as UTMSU’s membership fees, Family Care Centre, and UTM’s Women’s Centre. According to the Ontario government, under the SCI policy, these services are deemed “non-essential.”
Mandatory incidental fees include athletics and recreation, career services, student buildings, and academic support.
On May 23, the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O) and the York Federation of Students filed a joint legal challenge against the Ontario government in regard to the Student Choice Initiative.
The court challenge states that the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities did not have the authority to implement the SCI policy and acted unlawfully by imposing the policy on top of the memorandum made between students’ unions and university authorities.
“We are filing this legal challenge on behalf of all students, students’ unions and student organizations, including campus media and student clubs,” said Kayla Weiler, the Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario representative. “Despite its claim, the Ford government is not for the people and it is certainly not for the students. Students’ unions have been democratically voted in place by students and should remain free of government interference.”
The court challenge also refers to Premier Doug Ford’s fundraising email sent by his Progressive Conservative party on February 11, 2019, where he labels students’ unions as having nonsensical “Marxist ideologies.”
“Student were forced into unions and forced to pay for those unions,” says Doug Ford in the email. “I think we all know what kind of crazy Marxist nonsense student unions get up to. So, we fixed that.”
According to a survey administered by Ipsos, a global market research and consulting firm, on behalf of the CFS-O, 95 per cent of respondents think public consultation is essential when the government reviews the Ontario tuition fee framework. Almost 90 per cent of respondents also believe that post-secondary students are the most important stakeholders in the review process and should be consulted.
Former UTMSU president and current Chairperson of the CFS-O Felipe Nagata gave his thoughts on the survey results in a statement.
“Ontarians understand that students are the primary stakeholders in the post-secondary system. However, this government has consistently failed to engage students in any form of consultations ahead of major decisions affecting the sector. Students contribute billions of dollars a year into post-secondary institutions and deserve to be involved in consultations about the future of our campuses.”
At UTM, the students’ union worked over the summer to alleviate the negative impact the SCI would have on them financially.
“We are figuring out how to deal with [the SCI], the repercussions and the budget cuts, and how to still provide those quality services and advocacy work with those budget cuts,” said UTMSU president Atif Abdullah in an interview with The Medium. “I think that the biggest initiative this year is ‘how do we prove our membership is worth it to our students?’ because we’ve spent decades doing amazing work between the student union and the students.”
The UTMSU has started a “Maintain your Membership” campaign where they stress the importance of incidental fees and the services student societies provide to the UTM community, in hopes that students will choose to opt-in to their services.
The Maintain your Membership campaign also pushes for the transparency of UTMSU activities, so students can see the advocacy work the UTMSU provides on behalf of the student body.
“There is a lot of work that happens in the office, but how do we make sure that the work goes out to students and that they are aware of what we are doing in that office,” says Abdullah.
“So, that’s one of the biggest takeaways for us from last year to this year, especially with the Student Choice Initiative. How do we take all the work that we’ve done and put it out there?”
The UTMSU will continue to work with the CFS-O to advocate against the imposed Student Choice Initiative.