A protest photo from 2009 when flat fees were first introduced. ANDREW LOUIS/VARSITY ARCHIVES

The “flat fees” system for assessing tuition at U of T has been controversial since its inception in 2009.

It was initially proposed in order to help deal with the massive debt of the Faculty of Arts & Science. In a letter to the Governing Council, Dean Meric Gertler wrote that “Universities also opt for the model because it provides them with a more predictable and sustainable revenue stream.”

The U of T admin have also said that they feel this new model will encourage students to take charge of their education and not sit on the fence between full-time and part-time.

The new system that was first implemented in Fall 2009 required that students enrolled in four or more courses pay a flat program fee rather than the traditional per-course fee. Then last fall, the threshold for the flat fee system was changed from four to three credits.

The main concern with this system is from — or for — the students who are taking three or four courses since under this system, these students are required to pay for an education that they are not receiving.

Flat fees are a tuition increase seemingly targeted at students least able to afford it: students who work long hours.

The change from a threshold of four to three courses has made this problem even worse.  Students will now have to either pay full tuition or drop to part-time status. As part-time students, they cannot receive interest-free OSAP. They would also not have access to scholarships and bursaries that require  full-time status.

The flat fee system is rigged in such a way that it virtually guarantees that most of us will have massive debt upon graduation. We have always been told that in order to keep our student debt low, we need to work alongside getting a post-secondary education. But most students cannot manage five classes and a demanding work schedule.

If you try to cut your student debt by only taking 1 or 2 courses each term so that you have more time to work, you become a part-time student. And in Canada, that means that the government charges you interest on your student loans while you’re going through school. So opting for OSAP as a part-time student still increases your student debt, albeit in a different way. Borrowing less money but having to pay interest over a longer period of time increases the total amount of your loans.

The flat fee system is rigged in such a way that it virtually guarantees that most of us will have massive debt upon graduation.

In order to still have access to interest free OSAP and have enough time to work, the logical solution seems to be to take three courses. The catch here is that under the new flat fee model, taking three courses guarantees that you pay for courses you aren’t taking, and you end up paying one or two thousand more. That, combined with having to stay in school longer than the average four years, will likely put you back in the same situation as if you hadn’t worked.

Another problem with the flat-fee model is that students tend to hold on longer to courses that they haven’t yet decided to stick with since there is no financial penalty for dropping them at a later date. Under the per-course model for assessing fees, after four weeks into the term you lose 50 per cent of your tuition but under the flat fee model, so long as you stay above three courses, there is no change in tuition. This puts students who may need certain courses as part of their subject post requirements at a disadvantage since others may be holding on to their spot longer.

But while this system has faced a lot of opposition from many student groups and even some faculty members, the university seems to feel that it is producing the result that it hoped for, and it doesn’t plan on revisiting the topic of fee models. It seems that this system is here to stay — at least for the foreseeable future.

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