Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has introduced a new set of tuition billing regulations that will begin taking effect in the 201415 academic year. The changes are expected to be fully implemented by 2016.

The new policy, announced in December 2013, states that all post-secondary students in Ontario will be able to pay tuition per term without having to pay deferral fees. Tuition payments for a fall term cannot be due before August, and students who apply for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) by the beginning of August will not have to pay tuition before receiving their financial aid.

In response to the policy, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-Ontario) commended the ministry but also flagged some concerns.

“One thing we need to note is that we’ve heard from many university presidents that with these fees gone, there’s going to be less money in the system,” said Amir Eftekarpour, president of OUSA and vp external of the University Students’ Council at Western University.

“We definitely don’t want students to experience a lower quality of education because of this. There needs to be some discussion around ensuring that there is a funded reduction of these fees,” he said.

Another issue of contention, flat-fee tuition billing, will be more regulated but not altogether eliminated.

The ministry has committed to raising the current 60 per cent threshold to 70 per cent in 2015, then to 80 per cent by 2016. Students with disabilities will not be charged flat-fee tuition.

While some have argued that flat-fee billing provides institutions with a more predictable revenue stream and encourages students to finish their degrees sooner, student representatives have strongly criticized the model for charging some students for education they do not receive.

“From a student perspective, we very much advocate for full per-credit tuition and that there needs to be some way to find funding for it so it can happen in the short term. Unfortunately, given the economic reality, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of money floating around the province,” Eftekarpour said.

Eight universities in the province currently charge flat-fees above the 60 per cent threshold. The University of Toronto is the only university in Ontario charging flat-fee tuition to students taking 60 per cent of a course load. With the new policy, the U of T could see a $16 million annual loss in revenue, the university’s president told the Toronto Star in anticipation of an increased threshold.

The CFS-Ontario, which also lobbied for the elimination of flat fees and deferral fees, had further recommended that institutions be prohibited from charging interest on unpaid balances and deposits on tuition.

With the new rules, students will continue to be charged late fees and interest if they are unable to pay by per-term deadlines. Institutions will be allowed to charge deposits on tuition, but they will be capped at $500 or 10 per cent of tuition, whichever is greater.

“Unfortunately, some of the proposals provide new opportunities for institutions to burden students with additional costs,” said CFS-Ontario chairperson Alastair Woods in a release. “Students will continue to advocate at the institutional and provincial levels to end these and other unfair fee practices.”

The ministry’s new policy also eliminates graduation fees but does not address ancillary and online testing fees. Both the CFS-Ontario and OUSA have maintained that students should not pay to be evaluated through learning software.

“The ministry didn’t say that [online testing fees] are okay now. It certainly was a difficult discussion about what the best solution is,” Eftekarpour said. “I think it’s unfortunate that student unions will now have to engage with their universities to hammer out some sort of process for all of this. We really wish it was just maintaining that these aren’t allowed.”

“Just to clarify, we’re not at all against the online testing materials,” he added. “It’s really good quality software and it’s a great learning experience. Students just can’t pay to be tested to use it, that’s just against our principles.”

This article was first published on the Canadian University Press's newswire.

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