Some Manitoba university students — already feeling overwhelmed as a fall semester during a pandemic approaches — are wondering why they are still being charged fees for services when universities are offering online courses and campuses are partially shut down, says the head of a student union.
The president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union says it’s a difficult time for students who have not only had to navigate the new reality of remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis, but in many cases, also lost their jobs or couldn’t find work this summer because of the pandemic — and now face tuition increases as they return to their studies.
“It has been a consistent … uphill battle to figure out which fees are essential in order to offer some kind of quality of learning that is comparable to what it would have been in person,” said UMSU president Jelynn Dela Cruz.
The universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg and Brandon, like many other post-secondary schools, have said the bulk of their classes for the coming fall term will be delivered remotely or online.
Some students, however, are still being asked to pay hundreds of dollars in fees on top of tuition, including things like lab fees, recreation fees and student organization fees.
Dela Cruz said she and her executive have been meeting with administration, faculty and department heads for months, pushing back to get a scope of what these fees are being used for, and what the U of M plans to do with them come the fall.
“One of the things we are looking into right now, acknowledging the burden placed on students who haven’t been able to work, is to see if we can reallocate some of the money from the student organization fees to go to those who have the lowest income and who are most impacted by the pandemic,” she said.
A spokesperson for the U of M says the rate for the sports and recreation fee will be reduced for the fall term, to 70 per cent of the standard rate.
That means full-time students will pay a fee of $62.92, while part-time students will pay $47.18, according to a written statement from the university.
It goes on to say the sports and rec fee is not a user fee, but a way to support the Active Living Centre — the U of M community’s gym — and Bison athletes.
UMSU’s president says students who live on the Fort Garry campus, or nearby, can use the gym facility regularly to work out, which is a benefit to their mental health during COVID. But Dela Cruz, who lives in East Kildonan, says students like her, who live further from campus and won’t be there regularly for classes, wouldn’t use the gym as often.
Tech fees, meanwhile, are used for maintaining labs, an online platform to access professors, getting classroom materials and connect with zoom lectures, the U of M said.
Students are also charged a library fee, though only two on campus will open their doors as of next week: Elizabeth Dafoe and the Sciences and Technology library, both with some restrictions for safety.
The University of Winnipeg says some of its fees are being waived to lift the financial burden for students. They include a $60 fee for each three-credit-hour course and $120 for each six-credit-hour course.
The annual fitness fee of $45 is also being waived for the academic year, as the university’s fitness centre will remain closed.
Brandon University says all of its fees will be similar to last year.
Dela Cruz, who is hoping to take a full course load come the fall, says students are frustrated they aren’t getting the type of education they signed up for when they began their programs.
“Personally, it’s troubling to me that amidst all of these challenges, students who are considered the forefront of economic recovery from the pandemic don’t remain a priority,” she said.
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