Students might have noticed an additional $400 charge on their BearTracks account, but contrary to initial speculation by students on social media, this is not the result of a tuition raise.
The University of Alberta sent out an email on November 17 explaining that students will revert back to paying for some Winter 2021 Mandatory Non-Instructional Fees (MNIFs) after the Winter fees were paused in Fall 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These fees support services for students falling outside the umbrella of course tuition, for example the fees students pay to be represented through the Students’ Union.
While in a typical year, students who register in Fall and Winter terms at the same time pay for both semesters’ MNIFs simultaneously, the Winter 2021 fees were suspended in Fall 2020 as the university waited for the status of Winter semester in-person classes later in the year.
The three fees that are impacted are the Student Academic Support fee, the Health and Wellness fee, and the Athletics and Recreation fee.
Students will pay $254.54 and $61.32 respectively for the first two fees, the same charge applied for the remote Fall 2020 term.
The Athletics and Recreation fee will increase from the Fall 2020 term charge of $63.14 to $90.20.
In their statement, the university said that these services are still accessible while students remain distant from campus.
“The majority of services can be accessed remotely,” they said. “Thus most fees are charged accordingly. We encourage you to utilize the services available to you as a University of Alberta student.”
Still unassessed are the Physical Activity and Wellness Fee (PAW) and the U-Pass Fee. The U-Pass fee, to cover the cost of a subsidized transit pass for post-secondary students, is still undergoing negotiations with Edmonton Transit Service (ETS), the Students’ Union, and other regional student associations representing different post-secondary institutions.
Students respond to the MNIFs announcement
Ramya Prabhu, a third-year honours economics student, said that she wishes there had been more messaging around the fees in the Fall semester.
“I have to start figuring stuff out now,” she said. “This just came out of nowhere, this charge [is] hitting us like a brick!”
She added that she doesn’t see how it makes sense to increase the Athletics and Recreation fee at a time when people have been encouraged to social distance.
“They used to have passes for the group activities offered at the gym,” she said. “They could have issued something like that instead of charging every single student who does not even use those facilities. So many students haven’t been able to find work this summer, and every little bit counts.”
As an international student choosing to remain in Canada, Prabhu said she couldn’t help but think about other international students who have chosen to remain abroad in response to classes remaining online.
“Why are they paying a fee for a facility they’re unable to use?” she said. “It’s not like they’re going to come to Canada just to use the gym and go!”
Shena LaPierre, a fourth-year student from Campus Saint-Jean, said that because she doesn’t have a bus pass, she is paying for services that she can’t even access on campus.
“If you’re going to include fees for things on campus, maybe make sure that the students can actually access those things on campus as a minimum requirement,” she said.
She added that the MNIFs amount to money she could have put towards WiFi as she continues to learn from home.
“Students are paying into these fees when they don’t have access to WiFi or a place that’s convenient for studying,” she said. “That should be the number one focus.”
Melissa Padfield, vice-provost and university registrar responded in a provided statement that the university warned students of this possibility when tuition was first paid in the fall.
“Because health and safety precautions are now in place for services that are open on campus, such as Athletics & Recreation, students can choose to use them or not as they typically would. Campus & Community Recreation also offers a number of their services online to allow students who are unable to visit campus to still participate in wellness activities remotely.”
“For that reason, the Athletics & Recreation fee was restored to its full amount; this was not an increase to the cost, but was a return to it’s normal amount now that there is comprehensive access to the services supported by the Athletics & Recreation fee.”