The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) released a statement on February 18 that it, alongside the UTM Association of Graduate Students (UTMAGS), has successfully negotiated with Mississauga MiWay for a $95 rebate on the U-Pass fee.
This move follows concerns from UTM and other U of T students during this academic year about paying student fees toward certain services that are not accessible in person — or at all — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
U-Pass program partial rebate
In the statement, the UTMSU wrote that MiWay has agreed to provide a “partial rebate of the U-Pass fee for all undergraduate and graduate students who were charged for this service during the 2020-2021 academic year.”
In an email to The Varsity, Vice-President Internal of the UTMSU Fahad Dayala wrote that in the negotiations, “the UTMSU reiterated that the U-Pass program was created to save students money, therefore, making students pay was not a suitable option while the region was flip-flopping between lockdowns and ridership had decreased.”
The statement also noted that the UTMSU and UTMAGS, in collaboration with MiWay, have decided to cancel the Summer 2021 U-Pass Program and its associated fee. This decision was made due to the fact that the majority of summer 2021 classes will be held virtually, wrote Dayala. For undergraduate students attending in-person or hybrid classes, the UTMSU wrote that it will be administering transit bursaries from May to August.
“By providing bursaries, the UTMSU is able to cater support based on the students’ needs and on a case-by-case basis,” wrote Dayala. “These bursaries will be available for students at the beginning of the Summer session.” Regarding the fall and winter 2021–2022 semesters, the UTMSU will make a decision in April on whether or not to continue the program.
Concerns about other ancillary fees
While some students consider the U-Pass program partial rebate a victory, many are still concerned about existing student fees for services this year to which they have not had full access.
The Varsity spoke with Raya Khold, a UTM student who started a petition in November calling on U of T to refund all unused incidental fees to U of T students for the 2020–2021 academic year. Khold, who is in her fifth year and majoring in biology and environmental science, created the petition after the initial shock of seeing her tuition fees on ACORN.
As of March 7, the petition has gotten approximately 2,300 signatures, along with a number of comments from people sharing their reasons for signing it, including being away from Toronto or being unable to access services due to the pandemic.
Khold wrote that she had contacted the university about her concerns surrounding student fees, and that while U of T responded with the areas where fees have been reduced this year, she does not believe these are enough. “I cannot tolerate or understand paying for facilities and services that are currently closed due to the pandemic,” Khold wrote.
At UTM, these reductions include the UTM Athletics fee by 25 per cent; the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education Sport & Rec fee by 30 per cent; the Hart House fee by 20 per cent; and the Student Services fee by 35 per cent, which includes the fee for the shuttle service’s suspension.
In response to the U-Pass program partial rebate, Khold wrote that she hopes she can rely on the UTMSU to advocate for students. “Hopefully the UTMSU continues to stand up for student’s rights without the need for us to make petitions,” she wrote.
UTM admin response
Alexandra Gillespie, Vice-President & Principal of UTM, wrote to The Varsity that “UTM recognizes the difficulty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledging concurrently that the pandemic’s burden has exerted a disproportionate effect on particular people and groups.”
“We will continue to create new forums… to invite and listen to the concerns of our students,” she added. “We will also continue responding to concerns with tangible financial action.”
Mark Overton, Dean of Student Affairs, also wrote to The Varsity that the reduced student fees for the Recreation, Athletics, and Wellness Centre (RAWC) at UTM will likely be reduced “by at least that amount for this coming summer as well.”
With regard to funding toward the new COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic at UTM’s RAWC, Gillespie wrote that it is expected to be funded by external sources, including Trillium Health Partners and the government.
“We are working to make sure students, through their incidental fees, do not shoulder these costs,” she wrote.