THUNDER BAY – The Lakehead University Student Union is welcoming a decision by the provincial government to drop its fight to make student union and other “non-essential” fees optional.
The Ford government’s so-called Student Choice Initiative would have shaved just a fraction off the total cost of education, but potentially crippled campus initiatives like student unions, centres, and clubs, campus newspapers and radio stations.
The Canadian Federation of Students claimed victory earlier this week when the provincial government announced it wouldn’t appeal its loss in a case brought by the CFS to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In August, Ontario’s Court of Appeal dismissed a Ford government challenge of a lower court ruling that found the Student Choice Initiative violated provincial legislation governing universities and colleges.
The court found unanimously that the government’s policy represented “a profound interference in university autonomy” guaranteed in legislation, “given the role played by student associations in university governance.”
The court also ordered the government to pay costs to the CFS.
The news the government will drop its fight to preserve the Student Choice Initiative was welcomed by the Lakehead University Student Union.
“It took an incredible weight off our backs,” said LUSU president Lahama Naeem.
The policy would have had a drastic impact on campus life if it had stayed in place, she said.
Only 35 percent of Lakehead students opted in to paying ancillary fees when it was implemented in 2019, among the lowest uptake of any university in the province, Lakehead’s student newspaper The Argus reported.
Opting out of all ancillary fees was estimated to save a Lakehead student about $180, out of total tuition and ancillary fees in the range of $7,000 for Canadian undergraduate students (international students pay around $25,000).
By contrast, over 80 per cent of students at schools like York University and Queen’s University chose to pay their ancillary fees.
LUSU attributed the discrepancy to Lakehead University’s decision to make the default option on its online payment portal a full opting out of ancillary fees, where many other universities made opting in the default.
The reduction in funding at Lakehead resulted in the closure of a student sustainability office and cuts to student centres, clubs, and bursaries.
LUSU was able to support the continued operation of most services, but the cuts would have gone much deeper if the policy had continued, Naeem said.
“I think having a good financial plan leading up to it put us in a good position to operate well during the Student Choice Initiative, so I wouldn’t say our services took a huge hit, but definitely in the long run they would have,” she said.
“I think student life is a big piece of being a university student, and I think the Student Choice Initiative really would have hurt that.”
With files from Cory Nordstrom, TBT News.