As the university prepares to reopen with a mix of online and in-person courses for the fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokesperson for U of T revealed that tuition fees will not be reduced, citing the continuation of academic programs through alternative means. This decision comes despite calls from student groups like the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) to reduce tuition for remote classes.
A provincial government mandate froze domestic student tuition, so it cannot be raised. However, international tuition will continue to increase as planned by an average 5.3 per cent in the 2020–2021 school year as part of U of T’s 2020–2021 budget.
U of T expressed that it will consider reducing incidental fees that go to student services and recreation programs for the fall, as it did for the summer 2020 semester. The office of the Vice-Provost Students has also asked student groups to consider voluntarily reducing their fees in lieu of a tuition reduction. Student group fees are part of incidental fees, which are separate from tuition fees.
In an email to The Varsity, UTSU President Muntaka Ahmed, Vice-President Operations Dermot O’Halloran, and Vice-President University Affairs Tyler Riches criticized the decision not to reduce tuition, citing economic difficulties that students may be facing as a result of the pandemic. They also rejected the university’s justification that academic programs will continue through other means, writing that “the University’s proposed hybrid model will no doubt affect the quality of education for many.”
In particular, they noted that synchronous learning may be unfair to international students who are in different time zones, and that if students are not able to have the same quality of education, they “should not be on the hook for regular tuition levels.”
The UTSU previously released a statement on May 21 which urged the university to consider reducing tuition fees for online courses and reducing incidental fees such as those for Hart House and athletic facilities on campus, as students who take online courses may be unable to use these facilities.
On June 2, student groups around campus — including The Varsity and the UTSU — were sent an email from Meredith Strong and Josh Hass of the Office of the Vice-Provost Students asking them to consider voluntarily reducing their incidental fee, given the potential decrease in activity due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“For divisional student societies on campus, we are concerned that the University may be putting smaller organizations in a difficult position by suggesting that they reduce their fees,” wrote Ahmed, O’Halloran, and Riches. They further stressed that student groups will still need to conduct elections, meetings, and plan activities for when on-campus activities resume.
In the email, Ahmed, O’Halloran, and Riches also commented that the UTSU has decided not to reduce its fees, citing the importance of the its Student Aid Program, which has provided “tens of thousands of dollars” to students in need throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. The UTSU has also introduced new online programming, including orientation and a tax clinic, and it is preparing for the upcoming Student Commons opening.