Inability to opt-out of certain fees spark student discussions and dissatisfaction

Following an unprecedented summer for many, students at McMaster University continue their studies via online learning and face adjustments made both within their classrooms as well as the university as a whole. The transition to online learning has resulted in several changes to supplementary fees students are required to pay.

One of the biggest changes students face this year includes the Hamilton Street Railway bus pass. In June 2020, McMaster Student Union President Giancarlo Da-Ré wrote to the HSR asking for amendments to the student bus fee.

In July, Hamilton councillors voted to temporarily suspend the transit agreements with McMaster University, as well as Mohawk College and Redeemer University.

As a result, the 2020-2021 undergraduate student bus pass has been suspended for the period of September through December 2020. Rather than the original fee of $223.92, undergraduate students will pay $120.98 in January 2021 for use of the bus pass in the winter term through to Aug. 31, 2020.

Graduate students’ bus passes are still available and are valid from Aug. 22, 2020 until Aug. 21, 2021.

In a video shared by the MSU, Jess Anderson, Vice-President (Finance), said that aside from the temporary termination of bus passes, the MSU is also advocating for a discounted monthly transit rate for students; however, there have been no further updates for a discounted rate. 

All undergraduate students are now required to pay adult fare when boarding the HSR.

It is not yet clear as to how the MSU will handle HSR bus passes for the winter semester now that the school has announced classes will continue to be online.

In addition to the undergraduate bus pass, the Athletics and Recreation fee has been a major concern within students’ supplementary fees for the 2020-2021 year. Although McMaster Athletics and Recreation have announced that facilities will be closed until at least Dec. 31, 2020, students are still required to pay an Athletics and Recreation fee with a reduction of 25 per cent.

Although McMaster Athletics and Recreation have announced that facilities will be closed until at least December 31, 2020, students are still required to pay an Athletics and Recreation fee with a reduction of 25 per cent.

Students are encouraged to participate in a variety of virtual fitness classes offered by the Pulse Fitness Centre.

The decision to keep a fee for Athletics and Recreation has sparked multiple student discussions on social media, most of which consist of dissatisfaction from students about having to pay a fee at all.

this year students are paying 188.09 dollars towards an athletic and rec fee to cover “virtual fitness programming”…

Posted by Spotted At Mac on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Spotted at Mac conversations around supplementary fees.

Speaking to the Silhouette regarding what the remaining 75 per cent of Athletics and Recreation fee will cover, Director of Athletics and Recreation Shawn Burt said that fees not only go to supporting facilities in a typical school year but also go to support the infrastructure and staffing of the department. As well, fees support the department’s ability to deliver programming, whether it be virtually or in-person.

As for why students cannot opt-out of the fee, even if they choose to not participate in the virtual programs, Burt said, “I certainly understand that not everyone uses the Pulse or will use our online programming, but we do have to make an investment into staffing and infrastructure to ensure that we are able to deliver these things, even if not everyone can use them. It’s really not a usage-based fee, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to do it that way simply because accommodating 30,000 students into a fitness space logistically is difficult even at the best of times.”

Following the school’s announcement that the winter semester will also be online, Burt expressed that it is not yet clear as to whether Athletics and Recreation will remain closed as well. However, Burt said that adjustments to fees would certainly be looked at.

“Not unlike the fall, our expectation is that fees will be impacted as a result of [the school’s] announcement, so whatever needs to be done from our perspective to accommodate students and student-athletes, those steps will be taken at the direction that we receive for sure,” Burt said.

Students are also required to pay the non-MSU and non-McMaster fees, colloquially known as the Bylaw 5 fees. These include the fees for OPIRG, McMaster Solar Car Project, Engineers without Borders, McMaster Marching Band and Incite Publication. Other fee changes include the MSU organization fee which includes the operation of student services, club structures, governance apparatus and MSU advocacy work. Originally $133.26 for the fall of 2019, the fee has been reduced by 10 per cent, resulting in a fee of $122.45.

A breakdown of all supplementary fees for undergraduate and graduate students can be found on the Registrar’s Office Supplementary Fees page.

Full-time undergraduate students have the option to opt-out of the MSU Health and Dental plan. However, the opt-out option is only available for those with extended external coverage. Both plans together come to a total of $232. Students have until Sept. 30, 2020 to opt-out of both plans and be reimbursed the fees.

When reached for an interview about the MSU’s involvement with the changes to student fees, VP (Finance) Jess Anderson declined a phone interview.


Because of an error while collecting information, a previous version of this article misstated some of the fee changes for this year. The numbers have been updated accordingly throughout the article and the graphic.

Images courtesy of C/O Esra Rakab and C/O Elisa Do


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