When the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities released the official Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines document in March 2019, student societies all across Ontario braced for the changes to come. Here at the University of Toronto, that story was no different.
Under the framework, certain incidental fees are considered “essential,” while many other fees that are important to student life have been designated as “non-essential.” These can no longer be charged on a compulsory basis like in previous years.
Over the past few months, the University of Toronto’s Office of the Vice-Provost, Students has assessed all student groups to determine which, if any, areas of their budgets could fall into the “essential” categories. Unfortunately, the provincial government’s fee framework does not take into account the importance of some of the programming that is provided by many of the student groups on campus. This has regrettably rendered certain groups with extremely high percentages of their budgets considered ‘non-essential,’ putting their ability to operate at serious risk next year.
While many of the services categorized as ‘essential’ are important, much of what has been deemed as ‘non-essential’ by the framework is equally so. Regardless of how important these resources may be for students, the provincial government has inadvertently placed them in serious financial jeopardy. Many services pertaining to orientation, clubs, and student activity are now classified as non-compulsory.
One example of such organization is Downtown Legal Services (DLS), a community legal clinic that offers counselling to low-income community members and U of T students with housing, employment, immigration disputes, and more, all at no cost. Its entire levy has been deemed ‘non-essential’ by the university. Coupled with cuts to Legal Aid Ontario and tuition cuts affecting the Faculty of Law also impacting revenue streams, this places DLS in serious danger of having to drastically reduce the services it provides.
Other important humanitarian-based organizations that have been similarly affected include The World University Service of Canada, which, as part of its services, sponsors student refugees to study at the University of Toronto by providing tuition, housing, and employment support. Students for Barrier-free Access, which provides important supports and services for students with disabilities, and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)-run Food Bank at the Multi-Faith Centre which provides food services for low-income students, also face an uncertain future.
Unfortunately, the list of threatened services just keeps going. Fees for financial aid bursaries, family care, and housing services are all considered to be ‘non-essential’ under the framework.
Students who depend on these services are now subject to the will of individual students, each deciding on their own on whether or not to pay their fees. Since these changes have been so dramatic, and since there’s no concrete way of knowing how these services will be affected this year until September, it is no surprise that talk of a campaign began to surface when student society executives entered their new roles this past May.
Realizing how serious these changes were going to be, many student societies across campus started discussing their planned reactions to these new guidelines. These early meetings kickstarted a series of deliberations that would ultimately result in the ChooseUofT Campaign, which you may have recently spotted on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feed.
As a result of collaborative work between the UTSU, Arts and Science Students’ Union, eight service groups, seven colleges, and five faculty student associations, ChooseUofT asks students to consider the value that student groups and their services add to our campus. It asks students to remember their favourite experience from orientation, the night out they might have had at a formal, and the free snack they received at a library during exam season. While we may have had the privilege of these experiences, future students may be barred from doing so in light of these changes.
ChooseUofT has given campus groups the opportunity to show students just how essential their ‘non-essential’ fees are, each in their own unique way. Surprisingly, what started out as a dilemma has now given groups the opportunity to look deeply at what they offer to students. We have learned from each other and found ways to improve what we provide for this year and the years ahead.
With that being said, the only way we can all benefit from these changes is if we decide to support each other. Now, more than ever, student societies are fighting to keep their services and activities alive. Each of the participating student groups and services is being showcased on the ChooseUofT website in great detail. It is imperative that we as students support each other and improve our student experience together.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we ChooseUofT, because the student experience that we take for granted will never be the same if we do not.
From the ChooseUofT campaign, we ask that you join us in investing in our student life, and that you consider what a service or fee means to you and others prior to unchecking that box. We ask this for the students who do not have a choice, for the students who rely on these programs, and for the students who would not be a part of our community without them.
This fall, we ask that you choose your peers, classmates, and friends. This fall, we ask that you ChooseUofT in the least cliché way possible. There’s so much at stake this year, and it is up to all of us to support our peers and help keep our community great.
Students can choose their opt-out selections for the fall 2019 term on ACORN by September 19.
Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Political Science and Indigenous Studies student at St. Michael’s College, and the President of the UTSU. Keenan Krause is a third-year International Relations, History, and Diaspora & Transnational Studies at Trinity College, and the UTSU Director of Humanities. Dermot O’Halloran is a third-year student at the Faculty of Music, and the Vice-President of Professional Faculties at the UTSU. Devon Wilton is a fourth-year Human Physiology and Ethics, Society and Law student at Victoria College, and a Chief Executive Assistant for the UTSU. They are members of the Choose UofT campaign.