All full-time first-year Arts and Science students will have to pay a set fee for five courses starting next September, regardless of their actual course load, if a proposal from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is passed. Current students will pay on a per-course basis for the next five years.

“This is the commoditization of education. It’s creating yet another barrier for students,” said Colum Grove-White, president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union.

The implementation of flat fees was first raised as an option a few weeks ago, when the Faculty of Arts and Science realized it won’t receive endowment payouts, and will be facing a $9 million deficit. Ten out of the 20 Ontario universities already have flat fees.

“We are trying to find ways to protect the quality of our undergraduate programs when budget cuts and loss of endowments pose a significant threat,” said Meric Gertler, dean of Arts and Science. “Many student union leaders don’t see how fixed tuition rates will benefit students.”

“The administration has always maintained that they want to better the student experience, but if you look at those students who are engaged in campus life, very few of them have a full course load,” said Sandy Hudson, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

When asked about other funding options, Gertler said the faculty has opted for flat fees because higher tuition rates generate more government funding.

The faculty has been researching flat fees since the summer. But in a March 6 memorandum where Gerlter addresses the faculty’s deficit, there is no mention of program fees.

Both student union presidents agreed the proposal is being rushed through.

“Other options need to be explored. We don’t know how these fees will affect students,” said Grove-White.

“Students take fewer courses for a variety of reasons. Many want to take three to four courses and work full-time so that they can pay for university without having to take any loans.”

Under the new program, students will now have to decide whether they want to drop down to part-time status with 2.5 courses or increase their course load and get more bang for their buck.

Gertler said U of T will be in a better position to hand out financial aid, with the university generating more revenue from tuition fees, and possibly getting a larger cut of provincial funding.

“We will certainly respond positively to students’ needs. As student tuition costs go up, the full program fee will be in a student’s cost structure, making them eligible for more financial assistance,” he said.

Expected benefits include smaller classroom sizes and more pay for teaching assistants. But no timeline is set as to when these benefits will come into play.

To be implemented, the proposal will have to pass at the Faculty of Arts and Science council on April 6. It will then head to the Governing Council Business Board, and finally the Governing Council at the end of May.

UTSU and ASSU are holding an information session for students at noon on Thursday, March 26, in the UTSU building at 12 Hart House Circle.