Student groups celebrate court win on fees

Student groups celebrate court win on fees

Clubs and associations on Ottawa university campuses say they're encouraged by Thursday's court decision to quash the Ontario PC government's attempt to allow post-secondary students to opt out of certain fees.

The "non-essential" programs funded by the fees included student-run clubs, campus newspapers, food banks and other support services.

"This is like the happiest 30 pages I've ever read," said Emily D'Orazio, the fundraising drive coordinator for CKCU, the campus radio station at Carleton University, referring to the Ontario court decision.

The radio station holds an annual fundraising drive, and this year doubled its goal to $250,000 to make up for the money it expected to lose when students opted out.

"There's definitely been a lot of tension around this issue," D'Orazio said. "It's a big weight off our shoulders."

In January, the government announced post-secondary students would be allowed to opt out of certain mandatory fees for the 2019-2020 academic year, part of wider changes to the way universities and colleges are funded in the province.

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At Carleton, 85 per cent of the undergraduate population opted in, according to the Carleton University Students' Association (CUSA).

At the University of Ottawa, 79 per cent of approximately 35,000 students opted to continue paying toward clubs and a legal aid program, while 73 per cent supported the student newspaper and 72 per cent voted to continue funding the campus radio station.

Wait-and-see approach

"We were super happy to hear the news," said Matt Gergyek, editor in chief of the U of O's English-language student newspaper, The Fulcrum.

The paper joined others across the province to urge students to opt in, but Gergyek said it still had to cut 25 per cent of its staff in anticipation of the revenue loss. 

 

It's not clear what will happen if the province appeals, whether the money lost will be returned, or whether students who opted out will now have to pay up.

"Obviously, it's kind of preliminary and we're all waiting to see what happens next," Gergyek said. 

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"I think the reaction is a little bit of tempered glee," said CUSA general manager Travis Lindgren. 

"We're hoping the government now takes a bit of a pause to look at what has been the consequence, and maybe consults more widely about it."

Lindgren said the savings from opting out of "non-essential" fees were limited, anyway — about $130 per student.

"I don't think reversing this entirely would make the government look bad," he said. "I know it's Conservative policy to have more money in the pockets of students, but honestly, it wasn't a significant amount of money."