Illegal fees identified

Senior U of T administrators have confirmed the findings of several student unions that at least seven of the ancillary fees charged to students were in violation of Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities guidelines and the university’s own policies.

Reports submitted by the Graduate Student Union, the Scarborough Campus Student Union, and the University of Toronto Students’ Union have found the university has been inappropriately bundling fees under “black box” payments that should be divided up and more optional, increasing certain course fees beyond appropriate cost recovery levels, and limiting the available information about vague unspecified course fees.

The discovery began when a student from the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering complained to GSU about certain fees they were charged that totalled over $1,500. An investigation by the union discovered several ancillary fees were being charged for services that should have been covered by tuition. Both the Ministry and university were alerted. A resolution to the specific incident was reached last March; it prompted the university to conduct its own review in June and gave other student unions the opportunity to file their own reports.

Compulsory ancillary fees are divided into eight distinct categories, but only two—categories five and six—were the subject of review. Category five fees relate to select learning materials and services, while category six is for administrative fees charged only to students who use the relevant services. The approval of changes to fees in these categories rests solely with U of T’s vice-president, Scott Mabury. Though changes to ancillary fees must be reported annually to the Business Board of Governing Council, there are no limits on the amounts by which fees can be increased.

Besides the seven fees the school admitted were in violation, the administration remains divided on at least eight others. The UTSU report found that “many fees outlined in the ancillary fee schedule […] increased at rates of above 10% to over 4,000%”. It cited a 43% increase for medical student registration and increases of up to 2,000% for nursing clinical placements. UTSU and GSU also contested the Access Copyright fee, which is reportedly charged to students for the photocopying and distribution of copyrighted works. The UTSU report claims the fee is illegal since many non-students, including faculty, use the same works without paying.

With the exception of the seven fees, the university has refrained from commenting on most of the other aspects of the union reports, saying the “vast majority” of fees are in line with the guidelines and policies. Mabury has stated there will be no refunds for students who paid any of the seven fees, but they will no longer be charged.

Some progress has been made towards a resolution. The university has ruled that iClickers and other online materials will no longer be required for mandatory credit courses, and departmental websites will be updated to clarify vague and ambiguous language. Previously bundled fees will be separated into multiple items; for example, the unspecific “laboratory supply fee” will be divided into lab coats, equipment, and course materials.

In the Governing Council’s board meeting this January, many administrators said they were glad the fee review had been conducted. It was referred to as a “much-needed clarification”, and it was commented that the university’s biggest step forward in the coming months would be to ensure that facilities and departments have the resources they need to establish appropriate and compliant fees.

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