Among the sweeping changes to postsecondary education fees that the provincial government rolled out last Thursday is the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which may enable students to opt out of “non-essential non-tuition fees.”

According to Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton, “These fees often get allocated to services students do not use or to support organizations they do not support.” Fullerton added that the new initiative will bring “predictability and transparency” to non-tuition fees.

The provincial government has defined essential non-tuition fees to include “walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support.” Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities David Piccini told The Varsity that universities and colleges will determine which non-academic fees are essential “at their discretion.” U of T’s statement did not mention how this determination would be made. The government’s seemingly lax approach to regulating the initiative may mean that U of T could decide to make no changes to how ancillary or incidental fees currently work.

There are two main forms of mandatory non-tuition fees at U of T — ancillary fees and incidental fees. Ancillary fees are governed by the 1995 Policy on Ancillary Fees, while incidental fees are governed by the 2003 Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees.

In 2018–2019, the university is estimated to have received $210.8 million in ancillary and incidental fees. This equates to approximately 7.9 per cent of the university’s operating revenue. At the end of the 2017–2018 academic year, it projected that it would receive $217 million in 2019–2020 and $223.3 million in 2020–2021.

Ancillary fees

At U of T, ancillary fees are fees charged to pay for services, materials and activities not supported by operating grants, capital grants or tuition fees. These include fees for capital projects, course equipment, course field trips, library fines, non-credit course fees, and, for international students, the University Health Insurance Plan. A 2013 report revealed that there were nearly 1,000 unique ancillary fees as of the 2012–2013 academic year, “consistent with most Ontario universities.” Changes to existing ancillary fees are determined by the Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury. The introduction and removal of ancillary fees must be voted on by the Business Board.

As non-credit courses do not factor into the university’s tuition fees, they will not be subject to the provincially mandated 10 per cent cut to tuition. These non-credit course fees range from $50–15,000.

There are three forms of ancillary fees: compulsory fees, fully refundable deposits, and optional fees.

Compulsory fees refer to course and program required fees. This includes course field trips, lab equipment and manuals, course or program application fees, and access to ACORN. Most course textbooks are not considered compulsory as they can be borrowed through the library system. There is no framework for students to opt out of compulsory ancillary fees.

Fully refundable deposits include access to fobs required to enter certain buildings or classrooms. Students receive their full deposits upon return of the items at the end of the corresponding academic term or program. Optional fees consist of any fines or penalties that students accrue, including late library and deferred exam fees.

Under the Policy on Ancillary Fees, certain ancillary fees — namely required course equipment and field trip fees — are charged on a cost-recovery basis, meaning that the university cannot profit.

Incidental fees

U of T’s incidental fees are a subcategory of ancillary fees. These include athletics, Hart House, Health Service, Student Services Fees and various campus-wide and divisional student societies. Incidental fees are charged to all U of T students except for students enrolled in non-credit courses, students in the Additional Qualification Program of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and Arts & Science students over 65.

Incidental fees require student societies to pass a vote among their constituents. These fees are collected by the university and distributed to the respective societies. The framework for establishing incidental fees was created in 1996 by Governing Council, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Union, and the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students.

To illustrate the effect of an opt-out option on all non-essential incidental fees, The Varsity calculated changes to incidental fee revenues, using the latest available 2017–2018 fees.

In 2017–2018, each of the 13,073 full-time undergraduate Arts & Science UTM students would have paid a minimum of $1,373.82 across 13 incidental fees. If the SCI were mandatory, the same student would have paid a minimum $839.06, roughly 61 per cent of the actual minimum. If every student opted out of all possible fees, a mandatory SCI would have seen UTM and its student groups lose approximately $6,990,917.48.

The 12,147 full-time undergraduate Arts & Science UTSC students in 2017–2018 had to pay a minimum of $1,501.34 across 11 incidental fees. Enforcing the SCI would have reduced the minimum to $813.24, or 54 per cent of then-minimum incidental fees. Under the conditions that every student opted-out of all possible fees through the initiative, UTSC and its student groups would have lost approximately $8,358,350.70.

The minimum UTSG students could have paid in incidental fees in 2017–2018 ranges between an estimated $1,088.63 and $1,800.15, depending on college and program. While UTSG colleges and programs have different incidental fees, essential incidental fees are identical across all full-time undergraduate and graduate programs. In 2017–2018, this consisted of $370.58 for KPE Co-Curricular Programs, Services and Facilities, $303.08 per year for Student Life Programs & Services, and $172.76 per year for Hart House — which provides athletics and recreation. As such, all full-time undergraduate and graduate UTSG students could pay a minimum of $846.42 under a mandatory SCI.