TORONTO (CUP)—The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at the University of Toronto plans to move to a fixed-fee system that would force students to pay for five courses no matter how many courses they’re actually enrolled in.
A recent report by the Program Fee Working Group, struck by Interim Dean of Arts and Sciences Meric Gertler, proposed that FAS do away with per-course charges.
Instead, it would adopt a yearly price “equivalent to five times the per-course fee” to be applied to all full-time students starting their studies in fall semester 2009.
A full-time student at the U of T is defined as anyone taking three full-course equivalents or more.
The document projected that the shift would garner FAS “an additional $10 million in base funding” and result in “course intensification,” as students enroll in more classes to get the most out of their program fee.
Colum Grove-White, president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), called the recommendation a band-aid solution to an estimated $9 million structural deficit caused chiefly by the recession.
He said the change is being pushed through U of T’s various levels of governance without proper student and staff consultation, and explained that the ASSU is trying to block the proposal.
“If I took the five courses, I would definitely have to give up a lot of my [campus] involvement. It takes a lot of time up as it is, but if I added more courses, I would be really suffering,” said Tam Siwak, a student enrolled in four classes who plays two varsity and two intramural sports.
The concern about lost extra-curricular time is not shared by the report.
“It was discussed that intensification may result in some students reducing participation in extracurricular activities, though there is no evidence, from any of the other U of T divisions with a program fee or from other institutions, to substantiate this,” the report stated.
Grove-White believes the change’s ramifications haven’t been fully investigated.
“The faculty has had no research into the tangential impact,” he said. “People take three courses for a reason.”
Jamie Janeiro, president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), is one such person.
“This year I would have no choice but to still take three courses, because there’s no way you could be VUSAC president and still take a full course load. It’s impossible,” Janeiro said.
He says he would not want to drop to part-time status, because the majority of the students he represents are full-time.
There are those who balance involvement with a full course schedule, though. VUSAC Commuter Commissioner Catherine Brown is taking 5.5 full-course equivalents this year, and took six when she was the co-manager of the Caffiends shop on campus.
“You make your agenda your Bible and you plan your life. You should see my to-do list,” Brown said.
FAS Director of Communications Kim Luke echoes the conclusions stated in the report.
“I’ve heard people speculate that having a more intense course load could have people cutting back on their engagement,” she said.
“[But] it’s really hard to correlate or establish a relationship.”
Luke said that while most of the professional faculties here are already on a program-fee system, it doesn’t seem to prevent them from getting involved.
Flat-rate tuition is not uncommon in Ontario or elsewhere in Canada, but it seems to be favoured by smaller programs and institutions.
The majority of professional programs with limited, though competitive enrollment—such as engineering or pharmacy—tend to use the system, along with small universities like Ontario’s Wilfred Laurier, Nova Scotia’s St Francis Xavier, and New Brunswick’s Mount Allison.
Luke adds that most of the money would go back into the classroom experience in the form of more TAs, a smaller faculty-to-student ratio, and other similar benefits.