Many discounts offered by the Insider Pass, which is being sold by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) for $20, are already available to students at no cost. The Insider Pass is promoted as giving students “first access to orientation activities, events, discounts, and the student survival kit.” However, students can access several of the discounts through existing programs. The UTSU maintains that the pass will save students money and encourage involvement with the student union over the year, while other student leaders on campus are extremely critical — characterizing the program as one that lures vulnerable first year students into purchasing additional services they either do not need, or can already receive at no extra cost.
Students charged–for discounts available for free
The pass, which is only available to students on the St. George campus, will give the purchaser a $10 discount at The Body Shop with purchases of at least $20 and a 25 per cent discount on Greyhound bus tickets within Canada. However, both companies offer students the same discounts with the presentation of valid student ID, such as a TCard. Westjet and Microsoft also offer discounts through the Insider Pass, although the amount of each is not specified. U of T students have access to a 90 per cent discount on some Microsoft products and discounts on flights from WestJet through the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which is available free of charge to all UTSU students through already-paid student fees.
The Insider Pass cost $15 before August 1, and now costs $20
A statement from the UTSU website reads: “The ISIC is issued to full-time students and can be obtained at the UTSU office at no cost to you.” The ISIC website lists the UTSU as a location where students can pick up an ISIC card, and the 2013–2014 agenda distributed by the UTSU encourages students to pick up their free ISIC card in the students’ unions office.
Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU, admitted that many of the discounts are available to students with an ISIC card, saying: “The discounts that are not available with the ISIC are all discounts that pertain to UTSU-specific events, in addition to discounts that are currently being worked out with local businesses who have offered to be a part of the program.” However, he was unwilling to provide a full list of discounts as they “are currently being worked out with local businesses.” Sajjad mentioned yoga studios and theatres near campus as places students could save, although he did not specify how much, or which specific businesses.
The ISIC offers students discounts at 109 stores in Toronto ranging from 10 per cent off at Ten Thousand Villages and Fedex Office to 50 per cent off at Henri’s Optical. Other discounts include bookstores, restaurants, pharmacies, and hair salons, a full list of all discounts is available at the ISIC’s website. The ISIC is also a means of identity for students travelling worldwide, providing reduced prices on airfare as well as historical sites, museums, and other tourist attractions around the world. The Insider Pass’ website names six discounts including unspecified reduced prices for the UTSU’s semi formal and their Montreal Reading Week Trip.
Campus leaders criticize
“As the distributors of ISIC Cards, there is no excuse for UTSU’s disturbing strategy of profiting off uninformed incoming students. This degree of manipulation is alarmingly unethical,” said Benjamin Crase, Trinity’s co-Head of College. While any UTSU member can buy the pass, Sajjad says that it is primarily advertised for first-year students.
Crase is also concerned about the contents of the survival kit, which include a water bottle, laundry bag, and clubs’ directory as well as other unspecified items. He is concerned that all of these items may be found within UTSU frosh kits. Some students, however, will not receive UTSU-assembled kits, depending on which division they are in.
Sajjad vigorously defends the program, saying: “the value of the discounts that are passed on to students are much more than the cost of the pass.” In regards to the contents of the survival kit being remnenants of frosh kits Sajjad says: “There are three items in Orientation kits: the clubs directory, the agenda and the water bottle. The items in the kit are not made from excess items that go into orientation kits.” Other benefits of the pass include a “line by-pass” at the annual end-of-frosh-week-party held at the Guvernment nightclub, as well as a chance to arrive at that party in a limousine. Preferential access to other UTSU events, including a chance to meet musical artist Lupe Fiasco and unspecified discounts on UTSU’s semi-formal and Montreal Reading Week trip, are also offered. Students who purchase the pass are entered into a draw for a variety of prizes, including a Blackberry Playbook and a $200 gift card to the U of T Bookstore.
Brad Evoy, internal commissioner of the Graduate Students’ Union has similar concerns about the pass, saying that: “They are undoubtably creating a two-tiered system which the Graduate Students’ Union does not support and would not instigate for ourselves.” Evoy is also concerned about the use of advertising by the UTSU that he feels could mislead first year students into feeling that the card was necessary to participate in orientation.
The UTSU has been heavily promoting the pass over the past few weeks, with posters and leaflets distributed across campus, a full page advertisement in The Newspaper, and a dedicated section on their orientation website. Several news organizations were contacted by the Union asking them to write articles promoting the pass, but declined. Mauricio Curbelo, president of the University of Toronto Engineering Society, feels that the website from which the pass can be bought makes it unclear whether or not the pass is necessary to participate in orientation, saying that it is ultimately: “misleading first-year students into believing the pass is necessary in order to participate.”
Curbelo feels that offering a separate set of year-long events and discounts will create two tiers of membership in the UTSU; since all students already pay $68.24 dollars a year to the student union, Curbelo finds it unclear why an additional twenty dollars is being asked of first-year students for limited additional services. The sixty-eight dollar figure cited by Curbelo, is the total yearly levy collected for the UTSU, approximately half of which must be passed on to specific services and organizations. The union’s society fee is $34.96 per year. Sajjad did not specify how much money had been raised so far, or where the money would be used.
Not all campus leaders are critical of the pass, though. Walied Khogali, executive director of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) said that the UTMSU were asked to participate and were only unable to because it was too short notice. Reached by phone, Khogali said “We’re a little jealous to be honest with you, it seems like a great idea and the UTSU St. George clearly has done a lot of great work on it.”