Canadian Federation of Students protest at Queens Park January 18 2019

The Doug Ford government is continuing to cut back and change post-secondary education in Ontario. One of the things announced last week was a plan to make ancillary fees optional. Those are fees that students pay for a wide variety things that aren’t directly related to their course work.

Right now, in many cases, students can already opt out by paying and asking for a refund. This new idea is an “opt-in” strategy, where students would be given a menu of choices where they check off what they want to pay and not. This makes it easier for students to have a say in what they want to fund. Critics of the plan say that students will be tempted by the short-term savings while eroding campus life and the educational experience for students in general. They say it also has the potential to significantly erode student activism. 

And it wouldn’t apply to all non-academic fees. Things like library and athletic fees would still be mandatory. The Canadian Federation of Students says that the opt-out arrangement would only apply to those things that are considered “Student Experience Fees,” which are the fees applied to most extra-curricular organizations and activities on campus. Things like student council fees, bus passes, student media and even health and dental plans will be subject to the new rules. In some cases, like student council fees, we’re talking $100-200 per year. In some cases, it can be just a few dollars for things like campus media, Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) or donations to, for example, WUSC’s Student Refugee Program.

The CFS has an additional reason to fight back — the fees that students pay for CFS membership would also be subject to the opt-out clause.

On today’s rabble radio, Victoria Fenner talks to Hildah Otieno, the executive director of CFS Ontario, who says this idea will severely limit students’ ability to have their voices heard on campus. They talked yesterday by phone from the CFS office in Toronto, and she explained what kinds of services would be impacted and what the effects of this opt-out strategy would be.

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