Capping ancillary fees may not be as good as it sounds because this proposal comes at no cost to the government and puts more burden on cash-strapped universities, says Concordia Student Union President Angelica Novoa.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction that the government recognizes the problem of ancillary fees which are a backdoor way to get fees from students,” she said, but stressed that “it doesn’t solve the problem that universities don’t have enough funding for their operations [in general].”
According to Chris Mota, director of media relations at Concordia, ancillary fees at Concordia are amongst the highest in the province. If subject to the new regulation proposed by the Ministry of Education, the administration can only increase the fee by $15 a year without student consent. Any higher amount must gain the approval of students through a referendum, general assembly or some other voting process.
According to its budget and statement of operations, Concordia is $415 million in debt as of 2007. Its debt had risen from $121 million in 2001 due to the construction of two new towers at the downtown campus: the EV and JMSB buildings.
Roughly 50 per cent of Concordia’s tuition fees go towards paying interest for the bond-loans.
The proposal needs the final approval by the Ministry’s consultative committee on financial accessibility for education. If approved, the regulations will take effect by April 30 and are effective for three years.
Novoa warned that the cap could starve universities from funding, and if fundraising is not enough, they could try to compensate by pressuring the government for another tuition hike.
“Where else are you going to get this money from? The main issue is that the government is unwilling to spend any more money on post-secondary education.”
She said that ideally, combined with more provincial spending on post-secondary education, ancillary fees should be abolished altogether and the fees which universities collect from students such as the administration fee, the recreation and athletics fee and the technology infrastructure fee, among others, should be rolled into tuition so it would be subject to strict government regulation.
She said that this would eliminate the “backdoor” method of collecting student fees.
However, student association and clubs’ fees would be kept separate, she said. They are approved by student referendums.
“Most students don’t know the difference between ancillary fees and tuition fees. When they see their bill, they just pay it,” she said,
According to information released by Concordia’s Financial Office to Mota, there are currently no plans to raise ancillary fees for the 2008-2009 academic year.
“At this point, there is no direct effect. We’ll have to see what the effect will be in years ahead.”
According to Jean-Pascal Bernier, press attaché for the Minister of Education, the goal of the proposal is to equalize ancillary fees between universities and to involve students on decisions.
“Ancillary fees are very different from one university to another – with a gap of $1,000 from the lowest to the highest,” Bernier said. “That’s one of the main reasons the government made this change.”
The proposal creates three different brackets for universities. Schools who charge less than $550 each year may only increase $50 a year without student consultation, $25 for those who charge between $550 to $699 and $15 for schools who charge $700 or more.
According to estimates by student lobby group the Féderation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), ancillary fees have risen on average by 300 per cent to $476 since the 1994 freeze on tuition in the province.
– With files from Kelly Ebbels
The McGill Daily