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Tuition town halls highlight high fees for students in formerly deregulated programs

Students in CS, bioinformatics pay 87 per cent more for the same FAS degree
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NOOR NAQAWEH/THE VARSITY
NOOR NAQAWEH/THE VARSITY

Four student unions — the Arts and Science Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Student Union, and the Computer Science Student Union — came together this week to host three virtual U of T tuition consultation town halls on January 25–27.

Purpose of the town halls 

The town halls functioned as a way to collect student feedback on rising tuition, especially for formerly deregulated programs such as computer science, bioinformatics and computational biology, and data science, which pay 87 per cent more in tuition than other programs within the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS). The four unions sought input having already met with the university and launched a petition and survey on the matter. 

Organizers of the event argue that the proposal to either significantly reduce program fees paired with a tuition freeze or to consolidate program fees across all FAS programs is financially feasible for the university. The university currently functions with a $2.9 billion budget, spends approximately $300 million on financial aid, and just last year increased revenue by $239 million. 

In emails to The Varsity, spokespersons for the university have noted that a tuition reduction would require a change to government funding, which has made up a smaller share of U of T’s funding in recent years due to provincial budget cuts. They also noted that many factors are taken into account when tuition levels are set, and much of the program tuition goes directly to funding program staff and student services. 

The impact on students

Recent reporting by The Varsity has also shown that many find the financial aid available for students through U of T to be insufficient for their financial needs. 

Unequal program fees can function as an additional barrier of entry for students who are in positions of financial need. As a result, students from lower-income backgrounds will be more inclined to pursue less expensive programs while students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds will be more free to prioritize factors other than money when deciding on their programs. 

One student at the town hall shared that as the sole financier of their education and someone who depends on the Ontario Student Assistance Program, the burden of paying program fees is twofold. This student shared that they are having to maximize their course load during the school year to graduate as quickly as possible, as well as the summer to keep up with fees and also having to work several jobs which are often unrelated to their program full-time in the summer and part-time during the school year in order to pay for their program.

Some said that the financial concerns brought on by their programs fees, as well as taking on extra work, have exacerbated mental health problems. One student shared that the pressure to perform well in class and graduate quickly to minimize the financial burden added to their anxiety and poses a large burden to their personal mental health. This student explained that they didn’t pass an important prerequisite course, which led them to experience anxiety and depression over the concern that they were taking longer than they should have to complete their program.

One first-year student also shared that as an international student who already pays higher tuition, they were unaware that the CS program was more expensive until after choosing their courses, and thus does not know whether or not to continue in CS. 

Students who shared their experiences have remained unnamed due to the private nature of the event.