Education News – Quebec caps ancillary fee increases

MONTREAL (CUP) — The Quebec Ministry of Education has announced a proposal to regulate ancillary fees, hoping to empower students by allowing them to accept or reject fee hikes at the province’s universities.

The announcement comes after years of student lobbying for government regulation of drastic increases to the fees, which are above and beyond tuition.

?Ancillary fees are very different from one university to another?with a gap of $1,000 from the lowest to the highest,? said Jean-Pascal Bernier, press attaché for the Minister of Education. ?That’s one of the main reasons the government made this change.? According to Bernier, the goal is to curb the variation in fees between universities and to give students input into decisions to raise fees.

The new regulations require all ancillary fee increases to be approved by consultation with students through referenda, general assembly, or other processes. If students do not approve ancillary fee increases, the increases are capped at a nominal rate, depending on the amount already being charged.

For universities where ancillary fees are at least $700 per year, they can only be increased by $15 per year without student consent. Universities with lower fees are allowed larger increases.

Max Silverman, vice-president of external affairs at the Students? Society of McGill University, said that the announcement is good news for students. ?With this announcement, the administration will have to justify funding for certain projects, and students will have to agree on the project before they can go ahead,? Silverman said.

Pending final approval by the Ministry’s Consultative Committee on Financial Accessibility for Education, the regulations should go into effect on April 30, effective for the next three years.

Ancillary fees in Quebec have increased steadily since the 1994 freeze on tuition fees. Provincial student association the Féderation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) estimates that ancillary fees rose by approximately 300 per cent between 1993 and 2007, to $476.

According to the Ministry of Education, McGill has the highest ancillary fees in Quebec at around $1,500 for full-time students. According to FEUQ, that kind of power over students? wallets is exactly what they are fighting.

?Universities had the unilateral power of increasing fees as each institution saw fit. That was a big problem,? said Katherine Boushel, vice-president of federal and institutional affairs at FEUQ. ?Year to year, students didn’t know what to expect.?

The Ministry of Education had originally promised to address ancillary fees in 2003. Last fall, the Ministry engaged in consultations with universities and student unions, moving toward the current proposal. University administrations, however, think that the proposal could limit their ability to create new programs and improve services.

Morton Mendelson, deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill University, said the proposed regulation would not help Quebec universities improve quality and services by diversifying their revenue.

?Of course [these regulations] are unhelpful. Anything that limits the university’s ability to generate needed revenue is a problem,? Mendelson said.

Boushel said the final proposal affords autonomy to individual schools as to how they should consult students on fee increases. ?This will depend on student associations? culture on consulting students,? Boushel said. ?It respects unions on campuses, and ensures there’s a respect between what students want on campus and the leeway that universities want on campus.?

But the proposed regulation does not go as far as FEUQ had hoped. Boushel pointed out that since the regulations have not been signed into formal law, there is no guarantee that the regulations will continue after the initial three-year period expires.

?It’s not as stable as what we’ve been working for,? Boushel said. ?But in and of itself It’s a great first step.?

Bernier said that the system would be evaluated again after three years. ?It’s completely new. we’ll see in three years, but we hope it will work,? Bernier said.

McGill administration have noted that, since the methods of consultation have not been made explicit by the Ministry, it could not move forward in negotiating how ancillary fees would be decided.

?When we have the final regulations, we’ll be able to specify how we’re going to move forward,? Mendelson said. ?In the meantime, we’re studying the current situation, and the principles [in the proposal], and we’re going to come up with an action plan.?

Bernier said it was clear that consultations must be with student associations, but it is not yet clear whether these associations must be officially accredited under provincial law.

Silverman said that, since most ancillary fees are determined at the faculty, rather than university, level, consultations would likely proceed through faculty referendums.

?This really empowers faculty associations to get involved with their students and get them to think about the money,? Silverman said.

Not all student unions agree the regulations are good, though. Marc-André Faucher, information secretary for l?Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante?a provincial student union with a platform supporting free education?said that, while a cap in ancillary fees was an improvement, it institutionalized a fee system that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

?The news that came out institutionalizes the fees,? Faucher said. He added that it is unclear how the regulation applies to CEGEPs.

Boushel said that, at best, the ancillary fee regulations are an unsustainable solution to a greater underfunding crisis. ?It’s a good announcement, but It’s still a band-aid solution. This isn’t bringing any long-term, sustainable solution to our funding problem,? Boushel said.

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