Hey there cats and kittens! Continuing our series on the products of our recent Fall General Assembly, I wanted to tell you all about our new policies on the ancillary fees that Ontario students are responsible for. Ancillary fees are fees that students pay for services, activities and memberships that are outside of tuition and the post-secondary services that tuition funds – which are usually instruction, evaluation and learning resources that a student doesn’t get to keep upon the completion of their degree. Examples of ancillary fees can include fees to build non-academic buildings (including gyms, student centres, etc.), bus passes, and funds for specialized support services.

Many of the services that ancillary fees fund are vital to a student’s success at university, but students are concerned at the rate at which ancillary fees are increasing. Growth in tuition fees are regulated at 3 per cent increases per year, and while ancillary fees are for the most part subject to student controls, their growth rates are not regulated and, as a result, students in Ontario have watched ancillary fees rise at rates 3 and 4 times the rate of tuition and inflation. In fact, on average, non-tuition ancillary fees in Ontario have gone up 18 per cent since 2011 alone. This has meant that Ontario has both the highest tuition and highest ancillary fees in the country.

Changes in assessment and teaching methods, as well as the changing realities of global finances, are challenging the policies that have governed these fees since their regulation in 1994. Students feel that moving forward, it will be important to reassert some principles of fair cost sharing in the university system. In that vein, students have put forward their Ancillary Fees policy paper.

The authors, Amir Eftekharpour (OUSA President, and Vice-President External of the University Students’ Council of Western University) and Roland Erman (OUSA Steering Committee Member and Vice-President University Affairs of the Brock University Students’ Union) and his team have structured our ancillary fees policies around three pillars: fair cost sharing, student controls, and transparency and accountability.

Students recognize that as recipients of a university education that they do have a responsibility to share in the costs of pursuing a degree, but believe that the recent trend in students being asked to contribute more and more to the costs via ancillary fees moves away from a fair cost sharing arrangement. In the hope that such an arrangement can be worked toward, students have suggested several strategies, including: increased and targeted funding in resources typically supported by ancillary fees but that arguably fit the criteria for things that should be funded by university budgets; universities should educate their faculty and staff on what the regulations governing ancillary fees are, and when fees are levied for buildings there must be fair cost sharing between governments, students and institutions.

OUSA’s General Assembly was also concerned that student controls of ancillary fees needed to be enhanced, and that the principles behind existing student controls should be reaffirmed. Students feel that legislation and policies must affirm the right of students to assess and collect non-ancillary fees, and that all fees (including those prior to the 1994 regulation) should be subject to student controls. Students also feel that their presence on groups that oversee ancillary fee funded services should be, at minimum, proportional to the funds they contribute.

Finally, students felt that it was important that the use, implementation plans and amounts of fees be clear and readily available to students and the public alike. In particular, students were concerned about the use of application fees, faculty gift and endowment programs, and work-integrated learning and field trip fees. While students don’t question the value of some of these fees, they think that clearly describing their use will contribute to overall system health.

In an environment of rising costs and limited resources, controlling and ensuring the appropriate use of ancillary fees will be critical to ensuring access for students with limited resources and intelligent planning for the entire system. I believe the Ancillary Fees policy paper provides a holistic picture of the experience of on-the-ground students in paying rising non-tuition related fees, as well as their experience in trying to understand and control their use. The authors, and the students who shaped this paper with those experiences, should be commended for their efforts in this area.

To read more about OUSA’s policies regarding ancillary fees, please read our Ancillary Fees policy paper.

Sean Madden
OUSA Director of Research