The Ontario government has released official guidelines for the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), the provincial mandate to give students an opt-out option for certain ancillary fees. A document published today by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities expands on a previous unofficial rubric of what constitutes an essential fee, and also includes information on how universities must explain to students the reasoning behind each essential fee.

According to the document, an ancillary fee refers to “a fee imposed or administered… in addition to regular tuition fees, which a student pays for a service or product.” U of T denotes such fees as ‘incidental.’

Student Choice Initiative guidelines

Incidental fees charged by universities to support clubs, student societies, and programs that fall outside of the provincial framework for compulsory fees will be required to have an opt-out option for students.

The ability to opt out, according to the guidelines, must be presented to students before paying fees for that semester. The deadline last fall for Arts & Science students to pay their fees was August 29.

Services can be deemed “essential” by individual institutions, as long as they fall within the government’s established framework, which includes athletics and recreation, career services, student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, student achievement and records, financial aid offices, and campus safety programs.

Levy-funded groups like various student unions — including college student associations, The Varsity, and campus radio stations — will require an opt-out option, unless the university rationalizes these services as falling within one of the essential categories. The University of Toronto Students’ Union fee for the Student Commons project could potentially fall under the essential “student buildings” category, and will be decided at the university’s discretion.

Fees must also be itemized when provided to students for opting out. This requires the university to differentiate between various fees and restricts it from creating a general ‘student activity’ fee.

The guidelines also require universities to submit an ancillary fee protocol that governs creating new fees or increasing existing ones.

U of T’s guidelines on incidental fees are outlined in the Long-Term Protocol on the Increase or Introduction of Compulsory Non-tuition Related Fees created in 1996, which generally meets the requirements outlined by the province.

Program-related fees will not be governed by these guidelines and can still be mandatory under the university’s purview.

Details on tuition fee cuts provided, not applicable to deregulated programs

The tuition of full-time and part-time students in regular fee programs will also be cut by 10 per cent for the 2019–2020 academic year. This cut will also apply to new programs that have been approved for implementation in this or later years.

However, the cut will not apply to “most international students” and students in “full cost recovery programs,” which are programs for which all funding is received through tuition.

The cut will also not apply to students in deregulated programs, such as computer science and commerce.

From 2020–2021, the ministry will also freeze the tuition of students in each program and year of study. This means that students will pay the same tuition in 2020–2021 as they did in 2019–2020.

It is currently unclear whether this tuition freeze will apply to students in deregulated programs or international students. No information was released in this document on whether the freeze will stay in effect for future years.