Flat tuition raises students’ concerns

Queen’s would need to evaluate pros and cons before following the University of Toronto’s lead, Vice-Principal Deane says

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane says that a flat-rate fee has not been discussed at Queen’s since his appointment to his position in 2005.
Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane says that a flat-rate fee has not been discussed at Queen’s since his appointment to his position in 2005.

Starting this September, University of Toronto Arts and Science undergraduate students will have to pay a flat tuition fee, no matter how many courses they take.

Queen’s has no plans to do the same.

On May 20, the University of Toronto’s Governing Council, which oversees the University’s academic and business affairs, voted to phase in the flat fee, based on a five-course workload, over the next three years. Incoming University of Toronto arts and sciences students will be required to pay $4,991 if they take four or more courses in the 2009-10 academic year.

By 2011-12, students taking three or more courses will have to pay the flat fee.

Queen’s students pay $1,001 per course or $5,001 for a five-credit workload.

University of Toronto officials predict the new tuition will generate between $9 and 10 million each year in government funding for the University. The province funds universities based on the number of courses they offer, not how many students are enrolled.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Arts and Science Students’ Union have filed a joint lawsuit to fight the new fee. They’re scheduled to appear in provincial court July 10, University of Toronto Vice-President (University Affairs) Adam Awad said.

“With some of the highest fees in the country already, this fee would amount to an unprecedented 66 per cent tuition fee increase for those taking three courses,” he told the Journal via e-mail.

Awad said the new fee structure will negatively affect most students.

“[The fees] will continue to marginalize students from low-income backgrounds, from racialized communities, those dealing with family issues and any student who is involved in extra-curricular activities,” he said. “Downloading the University’s debt onto students is entirely unacceptable.”

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said a flat tuition fee hasn’t been discussed at Queen’s since he was appointed to his position in 2005, adding that any decisions the University makes regarding tuition must adhere to provincial legislation.

The University of Western Ontario and Brock University both operate under a flat-rate system. Brock University adopted the system in 2007 and requires students to pay approximately $4,706 if they’re enrolled in at least four courses. The University of Western Ontario charges students $5,635 if they’re enrolled in at least 3.5 courses, giving the University of Toronto the lowest flat-rate threshold in Canada at three courses.

“Governments establish, from time to time, frameworks which control, to some degree, the fees,” he said.

Ontario’s Reaching Higher plan allows universities to raise tuition fees for non-professional programs up to 4.5 per cent in the first year and four per cent in subsequent years.

Fees for professional programs can be raised up to eight per cent in the first year and four per cent in subsequent years.

“The other provision which covers all of those increases is that, overall, tuition increases may not exceed an average of five per cent [across the board] in any given year,” Deane said.

The Reaching Higher plan expires after the 2009-10 academic year and the University is still waiting on the province to create a new framework for 2010-11, he said.

The University would have to assess the benefits and downsides of using a flat-fee system before introducing it, Deane said.

“We need to look at our tuitions and how many students take less than a full load and how many take more than a full load,” he said. “We need to look at the data and see if that would be financially advantageous,” he said, adding that discussions have been preliminary so far.

Deane said one benefit of having flat-rate tuition is that it would offer predictability because the amount of tuition revenue the University would expect wouldn’t be subject to fluctuation.

“I think institutions that have made the decision to go with the flat fee presumably believe there are more students taking less than a full load than there are students taking more of a course load,” he said. “It protects both the stability and level of tuition income.”

However, a flat fee could also be perceived as insensitive to individual cases and circumstances, Deane said.

“From a student’s point of view, it does certainly provide an incentive to carry the maximum course load that they can manage rather than pursue the option of carrying a smaller course load for a longer period,” he said.

Queen’s continues to look at deregulation as another tuition fee policy.

Deregulation, which was heavily debated under former principals Bill Leggett and Karen Hitchcock, would allow the University to set its own tuition fees without provincial regulations.

“Discussion these days tends not to be about complete deregulation,” Deane said.

AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Susannah Gouinlock said although University of Toronto may have made the right decision under the current economic situation, she sympathizes with its students.

“It is an accessibility issue for those students who are unable to take five credits because of varying commitments, financial or otherwise. The University needs to address the fact that the five-credit mold is not viable for all students,” she said.

Gouinlock said she’s taking three credits this year because of her full-time job with the AMS.

“Were Queen’s to adopt a similar model, access to student government opportunities would be limited as student participation would be constrained by the financial implications of the flat-fee tuition system.”

—With files from Gloria Er-Chua

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