At the August meeting of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors, executives reviewed advocacy efforts to reduce tuition fees for the fall and make online learning more accessible to international students.
The board further heard an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) report suggesting that the vice-president equity position be dissolved and its work be redistributed to the vice-president student life and a human resources manager position.
The board also discussed revamping the working group policy, which was introduced in 2018 to allow students to get funding for smaller, temporary projects.
Tuition fee advocacy
The UTSU released a statement on July 31 criticizing the university for not reducing tuition fees and continuing with a 5.3 per cent increase in international tuition fees. The board called for tuition to be lowered for remote classes and for the average 5.3 per cent tuition increase for international students to be cancelled this year.
According to Vice-President Public and University Affairs Tyler Riches, the office of the president said that it had received the statement and is in the process of reviewing it. Riches said that the administration told the UTSU that the tuition fee is being kept as is because the university is investing in online learning infrastructure for students.
Riches also discussed the last meeting with the Office of the Vice-Provost Students (OVPS) where they reviewed student concerns. According to the OVPS, there are no plans to make changes to tuition for the upcoming year as of yet, though ancillary fees, which are separate from tuition, have been reduced for the fall semester.
The Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education Sport & Rec fee will be reduced by 30 per cent. The Hart House fee will be reduced by 20 per cent, and Student Life by 10 per cent. These changes will continue to be reassessed as the fall term progresses.
Trinity College Director Fiona Reuter asked if the UTSU plans to further advocate for a decrease in microtransactions in the fall because of the financial burden imposed by COVID-19. Microtransactions are small online payments that may build up over time, such as fees for textbooks or online services required to complete a course. Riches replied that it is difficult to have changes made in the fall since instructors plan their courses months ahead of time.
UTSU President Muntaka Ahmed said that the university needs to clarify what support they are offering international students working outside of Canada or the GTA in the fall, such as virtual private networks. Ahmed said that she plans to raise this issue with the administration at its next meeting.
Vice-President Equity (VP Equity) Alexandra McLean added that the UTSU will use feedback from the online learning survey to determine and conduct further research on how the UTSU can help make online learning more accessible for international students, who may face barriers to accessibility services because of health policies in different countries.
UTSU Vice-President Operations Dermot O’Halloran said that the UTSU is “working very closely with Studentcare” and the university to plan opt-outs for international students in the Health and Dental Plan.
EDI Review Body report
The EDI report produced proposals to make the UTSU an equitable space for all students on campus, including that the VP Equity role be dissolved and given to a human resources official instead. The VP Equity is part of the executive committee and works on equity related initiatives for the UTSU.
New College Director Karel Peters explained that the VP Equity is meant to keep the executives and the board of directors accountable, which is difficult given that the VP Equity is an executive themselves. Peters reasoned that a human resources official would be more qualified than an elected student.
Currently, per the UTSU’s bylaws, the role of human resources manager falls under the vice-president operations’ purview.
Ahmed called the report a step in the right direction, and she stressed the importance of such changes being made in the structure of the UTSU.
Working groups policy
Riches discussed changes that have been made to the working groups policy, stating that the UTSU wants to encourage students to use the policy for advocacy work in the coming year.
Working groups are student-led groups that receive funding from the UTSU for a short-term project. Riches also wants to work with the outreach committee to reach out to student groups on campus that may be able to benefit from the policy.
O’Halloran noted that this policy has never been used since its introduction in 2018.