Students’ Council initiates undergraduate fees review

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Seneca Velling
Vice President, Operations & Finance
Tue, 12/10/2019 - 14:15

On December 1, 2019, Students’ Council – your Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association’s governing body – voted to initiate a comprehensive review of undergraduate ancillary fees. This decision was made following considerable debate on how we approach fee regulation in the wake of the recent ruling of the Ontario Divisional Court, which quashed the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), a directive that bound universities to make certain fees optional at, or before point-of-payment.

This process was recommended by the Executive Committee to address the gap that now exists in how these fees are both classified and regulated. With the introduction of the online opt-out system and the subsequent changes to formerly refundable fees, we felt it was necessary to collectively re-evaluate within our own student government, the rules around fees and the status of each moving forward. We feel this is a proactive measure that better prepares us for whatever may or may not come next from the provincial government, particularly in light of yesterday’s announcement of the government’s intention to appeal.

In the short time between the announcement of SCI and the ruling by the Courts, major changes occurred to the fees themselves, including a modernization of the refund process into a centralized, online opt-out platform built into Quest. As such, the student Executive felt it was appropriate to re-examine current practices, classification of fees, and review governance process requirements if student groups began to request any changes to fees or fee classification.

Consequently, the Students’ Council discussed the merits of undertaking a review process proposed by the President and Executive Committee. The proposal called for a comprehensive examination to recommend standards for all undergraduate fees and the (re-)classification of existing fees as compulsory or otherwise, to be conducted by the Office of the Vice President, Operations & Finance, under oversight from the Budget & Appropriations Committee.

In adopting the motion, Council accepted the proposed review and authorized the Budget & Appropriations Committee to proceed. Council debated what criteria fees should be examined against in their review, including whether a fee supports programs that have measurable student demand, if a fee supports a public good, the financial impact of opt-outs, and how the fee was originally introduced.

The review will reconsider every undergraduate ancillary fee, examining:

  • Current and alternate funding structures
  • Impacts of a fee being optional
  • Justification for each fee’s status
  • Verification and policing of fees determined to be optional
  • Tax considerations
  • Cost benefit analysis of a fee’s status as optional or otherwise
  • Recommendations on each fees status as optional, voluntary, refundable, or compulsory

From December through mid-February, students, student groups, university stakeholders, and government stakeholders will be consulted for input and recommendations. A series of public hearings and consultation sessions will be held for students to provide direct input on fees that affect their tuition statement.

Throughout the review, the Executive will simultaneously be monitoring the upcoming appeal of SCI and other actions the provincial government may take, to be considered prior to the issuing of any final recommendations.

The review will conclude in February, with a summary report to the Students’ Council for consideration and adoption. Council may accept, reject or further amend any of the report’s recommendations regarding existence of fees, the fees’ status as compulsory or otherwise, and the governance processes by which the fees status may be modified, if desired.

Interested in sharing your feedback?

Stay tuned! More information will be provided in the coming weeks for participation from student groups, including public student consultations, and the drafting of high-level principles for fees.

For any questions, comments, or concerns please reach out to Seneca Velling, Vice President, Operations & Finance at vpof@wusa.ca.

Disclaimer/Note

This review excludes assessment of the Student Services Fees, which are governed under the university’s fees protocol by the Student Services Advisory Committee (SSAC). WUSA also appoints undergraduate representatives to serve on SSAC.