In a move that student groups are calling a cash grab, the University of Toronto has approved a plan to charge a flat fee in the school’s faculty of arts and science. This means students will be charged the same amount to take three classes as they would pay to take five.
“Flat tuition fee structures are nothing but a repulsively unethical band-aid solution to the persistent underfunding of Ontario universities,” said Sandy Hudson, president of the U of T students’ union, in a press release issued yesterday. “Our university has let the government off the hook, at the expense of thousands of students.”
The university, which is the country’s largest, will not implement the increase until 2011, and a spokesperson for the school says current students will not be affected. The new fee will be phased in gradually, which means that new arts and science students on the school’s St. George campus will be charged for five courses, even if they take four.
The U of T students’ union is calling the policy “regressive” and has filed a lawsuit against the university in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in an attempt to fight the change.
“The University has lost over $1.3 billion in risky investments this year,” said Adam Awad, union vice-president of university affairs. “This transfer of debt from the public university to individual students is unethical and will impede access to post-secondary education.”
The fee change is intended to encourage students to take as many classes as possible, according to the university, and will also apply to students taking six courses. Because the provincial government pays universities for each course taught, not per student, the policy is aimed at generating between $8 to 14 million in additional government funding every year.
In The Toronto Star, arts and science dean Meric Gertler praised the move as a way to help bail out a faculty facing a deficit of $5 million to $7 million a year. He also noted students already pay a similar flat fee in U of T’s’ departments of music, physical education, computer science and commerce.
The school says it will be emailing thousands of prospective students about the fee change before the May 28 acceptance deadline, and says it has set aside $1.5 million of extra financial aid for students who can’t afford the new fee.