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Province offloading costs, students fear

U of W levies $5-per-credit-hour IT fee

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Students fear a hefty new information technology fee at the University of Winnipeg is just the start of the province's offloading of operating costs onto students.

The U of W passed a balanced budget last week that includes a $5-per-credit-hour IT fee for students, who can take up to 30 credit hours a year.

Ancillary fees return

ANCILLARY fees are extensive fees levied on students for libraries, student services, gym memberships and a wide range of other services and activities.

In 2005, universities tried to do an end run around the province's tuition freeze by jacking up ancillary fees that would have cost students with a maximum course load $465 at the University of Manitoba, $412.50 at Brandon University and $385 at the University of Winnipeg.

Diane McGifford, then minister of advanced education, killed the ancillary fee increases but added $8.95 million to the universities' operating grants to cover off the money the fees would have raised.

In 2009, the province lifted the tuiton freeze but capped increases and told schools any new ancillary fees would be clawed back from the maximum tuition increase.

Last year, new legislation allowed universities to present a business case to the council on post-secondary education to justify new ancillary fees.

The province had to sign-off on the fee, which will be in effect for the next five years.

That money should have come from the university's operating budget and there should have been provincial grants to cover it, said U of W Students' Association president Megan Fultz.

"It's unfortunate this kind of fee had to be put in place for students," she said. "It's an operating cost -- an update of the IT system is a standard procedure."

Fultz predicted there will be more such fees ahead for other services.

"I anticipate there will be further upgrades needed -- we hope students don't have to shoulder that."

An aide to Advanced Education Minister Erin Selby said ancillary fees are covered under last year's Protecting Affordability for University Students Act.

"The act does two important things to protect students. First, it legislates freezing tuition at the rate of inflation. Second, it puts in place first-time controls on back-door tuition increases through ancillary fees. Universities must now provide a business case demonstrating that new fees are reasonable and justifiable and that they reflect the true cost of providing the material or service," said Selby's aide.

"The IT they have at U of W needs upgrading," and it's a service students really care about, said Bilan Arte, Manitoba representative for the Canadian Federation of Students. "Ideally, we don't want to see that being billed directly to students.

"Technology has become such an important part of learning. The question is, who should pay for it?" said Arte, arguing the province and universities should be paying those costs through operating grants.

"I suspect there might be more in the coming years," Arte said.

Fultz said student leaders are unsure how the proposed student transit U-pass will be handled if city council eventually approves it, but that could produce another new ancillary fee.

A spokeswoman for U of W president Lloyd Axworthy said the university met all the provincial requirements, and pointed out other universities already charge students an IT fee.

University of Manitoba officials said the U of M has not requested any new ancillary fees. Officials with Brandon University could not be reached.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2013 B3

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