Photo by Kyle West
On March 29, the Ontario government unveiled guidelines for universities to follow in order to comply with the “Student Choice Initiative” policy, which allows students to opt out of paying ancillary fees.
According to the document, students will be allowed to opt out of fees that are allocated towards clubs, student organizations and programs that do not fall into the government’s criteria for essential fees.
Services considered “essential” in the guidelines include “athletics and recreation, career services, student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, student achievement and records, financial aid offices, and campus safety programs.”
As such, much remains unclear about what the student opt-out fee mandate means for the funding of MSU clubs and services next year.
Sean Van Koughnett, McMaster associate vice-president (Students and Learning) and dean of students, confirmed that the opting out process will occur online through the Mosaic system and be part of the regular tuition payment process in September.
McMaster Students Union vice president (Finance) Scott Robinson is working on a final memo to submit to the university student fees committee, outlining exactly what services the MSU wants to deem “essential.”
The government has given each institution the autonomy to determine what falls under the “essential” categories, but there will be penalties if universities are deemed non-compliant with the SCI come this upcoming fall.
“We’ve been working closely with the university to determine as many of our fees as possible as essential fees,” Robinson said. “The priority for me again has been that students voted at large that we should have a mandatory MSU fee.”
Complicating the budget submission is the fact that the union will not know how much they will receive in student fees until September.
Robinson is basing the official operating budget on the estimate that 35 per cent of students will opt out of non-essential student fees.
At this point, the framework is such that students will be able to choose which “non-essential” individual MSU services to opt out of, but club funding will fall under one fee item.
A source of funding that will help mitigate the loss of student fees is a ‘significant’ MSU reserve fund, which Robinson said has enough to keep the MSU running for two and a half years.
“Things like funding decreases and scale-backs are being planned right now for the budget, but it isn’t like we’re in total doomsday,” Robinson said. “How much money goes towards things will shift, but the MSU is still in a financially safe place to operate.”
The reserve fund will be used primarily to help fund services and clubs.
Robinson says there will not be ‘significant cuts’ planned for student-run services such as the Pride Community Centre and the Food Collective Centre.
The MSU executive board continues to advocate against the SCI.
MSU vice president (Education) Stephanie Bertolo said she and the board have met with nine Conservative and New Democratic Party MPPs so far.
“We don’t want the Student Choice initiative to go forward. That’s our ideal scenario,” Bertolo said. “We’ve asked if they do move forward with the Student Choice Initiative, to delay it a year, because it’s such a crunched timeline.”
Robinson will be submitting the 2019-2020 operating budget to the Student Representative Assembly for approval at the SRA meeting on April 14.