Unnecessary fees eliminated

University agrees to ban course charges following two-year process alongside AMS, SGPS

Students are no longer required to pay ancillary fees for certain classroom items that they can't keep.
Students are no longer required to pay ancillary fees for certain classroom items that they can't keep.

The AMS has reached an agreement with the University to eradicate wrongfully charged course fees that aren’t justified or permitted under provincial guidelines dictating the charging of ancillary fees.

AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Colin Zarzour said these fees are often charged under the guise of “lab fees”, but a student’s tuition is “supposed to fund the resources necessary to provide you with the course.” The University is only permitted to charge additional fees beyond the course fee if the student is receiving additional value — for example, a lab coat or field trip within Ontario, as they become the property of the student, have a free alternative or are beneficial beyond the course.

Zarzour, ArtSci ’15, said he didn’t know how many courses charge ancillary fees, since the number fluctuates as students report the fees.

“This isn’t a new initiative — this is a culmination of a single initiative that has been going on for years, back to previous Academic Affairs Commissioners and AMS executives have been working with the university and both positively and at times at odds to make these fees go away,” Zarzou said, adding the AMS has been engaged with the issues since the 1990s.

“This is just that we’ve finally come to an agreement with the Provost office at the University about making sure they say yes, and we have the go-ahead to destroy these fees.”

Zarzour added the project leading to this initiative has been ongoing for the last two years, including meetings with representatives from the Provost’s office and the Registrar’s office, as well as support from the Society of Professional and Graduate Students (SGPS).

The University administration was unable to comment by deadline.

Queen’s isn’t unique in the practice of charging illegitimate ancillary course fees. Zarzour said similar practices are in place at the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, McMaster University and Western University. He said the most egregious example of ancillary fees was found at Toronto, where music students were charged an annual instrument fee of $1,000 but were not given a musical instrument at the end of the year. Zarzour said although Ontario universities are struggling with funding for their programs, charging these fees “as a way to sneakily recover costs for these courses” isn’t what schools should be doing.

The AMS is asking students to report fees they feel aren’t reasonable and have created a form for students to fill out online.

Some students have questioned the legitimacy of charging for course codes and online access codes that expire after a certain point.

Zarzour said the AMS is working to come up with a policy with the University regarding the digital assessment tools as long as they are in line with student interest.

He added more student consultations will be done this year to make sure the correct understanding of what it means to be “within student interest.”

“We’ve done consulting with Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance [and] with Academic Caucus in previous years, and it’s pretty clear that students do not believe that the levying of these fees freely without any constraints is in line with student interest,” Zarzour said.

-- With files from Mishal Omar and Chloe Sobel

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