In October, I postedon this very blog that McMaster students were facing questionable ancillary fees. It was brought to my attention by a member of our Student Representative Assembly (Andrew Toye Ojo) that numerous classes on campus were forced to purchase supplementary software programs to complete course content and/or receive course credit. After conducting some research, with the tremendous help of OUSA and the university administration, I came to the conclusion that programs such as these and in particular one called Aplia were in violation of the provincially-mandated rules on ancillary fees as outlined in the Ontario Operating Funds Distribution Manual. According to the manual, a compulsory ancillary fee is one in which “a student is required to pay in order to enrol in, or successfully complete, any course credit.” Most importantly, “tuition-related” ancillary fees are prohibited, which includes fees used to cover costs (such as the development or marking of assignments and exams) that normally are paid out of operating or capital revenue. Any fee that violates the rules can result in an equivalent reduction in government operating funding.

I brought this issue to the attention of McMaster’s Associate Vice-President Academic Dr. Peter Smith. Dr. Smith’s office responded by launching an investigation into the programs. This enquiry was conducted very quickly and in late November Dr. Smith confirmed that as of second semester, students at McMaster will no longer be required to purchase programs of this nature. This includes Aplia, Wiley Plus and Mastering Chemistry. His office has also initiated contact with all departments and faculties currently using these types of programs. Although they may still be used in or out of the classroom, provisions will be made to ensure students will not be forced into a situation where there is a need to pay for the use of such a program. As well, students will not be disadvantaged relative to others if they choose to not purchase supplementary software.

Needless to say, this is an important subject and I urge all university administrations to ensure their faculty are aware of the regulations surrounding ancillary fees. Given that a similar issue arose at the University of Waterloo last year (which also required intervention from the students’ union before it was properly addressed), perhaps it is time for the provincial government to be more proactive in ensuring our institutions are following the rules.

I would like to thank the administration at McMaster for so quickly addressing this problem. I have a hunch, however, that across the province, violations of the ancillary fee protocol are more common than we know.

-Joe Finkle
McMaster Student Union VP Education
OUSA VP Administration