A presentation obtained by The Varsity that appears to have been delivered by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) outlines which fees will be considered “essential” under the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The SCI is a policy announced by the provincial government that will give students a choice to opt out from certain fees.
The presentation is dated February 4, and also lays out the requirements for rolling out the opt-out and compliance and enforcement systems of the policy.
These policies are part of the MTCU’s recently announced changes to postsecondary education funding, first put forth by the TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton on January 17.
Services considered essential are athletics and recreation, career services, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, transcripts and convocation processes, financial aid offices, walksafe programs, and student buildings, including student centres. Student transit passes, which only UTM has, are also considered essential.
Any programs not within these categories are considered non-essential. Individual fees must fit into one of the essential categories to be mandatory.
Health and dental plans are also mandatory, but can be opt-out if a student provides proof of pre-existing coverage. This system is already in place for U of T students.
Co-op and field trip fees will not be subject to the SCI.
The impact on long-term contracts between universities and student associations regarding incidental fees, along with negotiations for amendments, will be the responsibility of those individual parties.
Rollout of the Student Choice Initiative
The MTCU will not introduce any new enforcement mechanisms for the SCI — individual institutions will be responsible for monitoring compliance. Institutions that are not in compliance will be expected to either reimburse students for fees that they opt out from, or the ministry may reduce their operating grants by a commensurate amount.
According to the documents, compliance will be required by the coming fall semester, through an online system that provides an “opt-out” option simultaneously with paying tuition. Individual institutions may also provide students with an “opt back in” option at a later date.
Fees must be itemized individually, meaning that fees collected by institutions must be separated and cannot be bundled together as, for example, “student activity fees.”
It is unclear whether “essential” Career Centre and Health & Wellness Centre fees would be separated from other “non-essential” student life fees such as for Sexual Diversity Offices and other student services not established under the “essential” requirements.
According to the documents, the ministry will release guidelines for the SCI “in the near future.”
Paige Wiggans — Executive Assistant to MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of TCU David Piccini — wrote in an email that the Government of Ontario did not share any documents with The Varsity. Therefore, they “cannot comment on their veracity” as they have not seen the documents.
Editor’s Note (February 6, 12:49pm): This article has been updated with comment from Wiggans.