For the past few months, thousands of students across Ontario have taken to social media, expressing confusion over why tuition costs will remain the same when most courses are being delivered online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here in Kingston, a number of Queen’s University students have done the same. On Overheard At Queen’s, a Facebook group dedicated to Queen’s students, students have previously called for reduced summer tuition fees, reduced international student tuition fees, and an overall reduction of tuition fees for the coming school year.
Many students cite their own lack of financial stability at the time – some were laid off due to the pandemic, many were not able to obtain summer employment, and a lot are concerned that the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) will only be a drop in the bucket with regards to tuition costs. Still more students point to the fact that the amount of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) funding depends on the student’s family income.
In fact, a number of petitions have been circulating around the matter, such as one on change.org that has already netted over 5,000 signatures.
However, with the pandemic nowhere near over, educational institutions the world over are dealing with the same new world as students. This requires the enforcement of strict Public Health policies, investments in technology and software to deliver courses online, and a large number of costs associated with increased cleaning and sanitization services.
With all of this in mind, Kingstonist reached out to Queen’s University Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green to give a voice to the justification for tuition remaining the same.
First and foremost, Green said the University’s top priorities are ensuring health and safety and adhering to Public Health guidelines.
“Our priority is the health and safety of everyone, including students, staff, faculty and the Kingston community, and that’s why we must comply with Public Health requirements for physical distancing, and why most programs and courses will need to be delivered remotely for the fall term,” Green said in an email to Kingstonist.
But that doesn’t mean the University is unaware of students’ concerns about tuition costs, Green expressed. Queen’s is also aware of concerns regarding the quality of education students will receive through online course deliver, he said.
“We understand the COVID situation has caused disruption and uncertainty for many in the Queen’s community – including students paying tuition fees. Tuition is reflective of the quality of the degree and associated learning outcomes. Queen’s has invested significant resources to ensure our students receive a quality learning experience and the value of a Queen’s degree is not diminished. All academic components and learning outcomes of each program will be met, no matter the delivery platform. Consequently, our tuition fees will remain the same for fall 2020,” said Green.
And delivering courses online while also planning to be able to deliver courses in classrooms as soon as possible has its own set of costs, Green explained.
“We are investing significantly in our ability to deliver an exceptional remote educational experience, while ensuring that once we emerge from the COVID-19 situation, Queen’s is ready to resume the in-person elements of our academic mission,” he said, noting that the University has resources available to students that might be struggling financially.
“In addition, our Student Awards Office will continue to assist students to access financial aid through university and government programs. Since March, Queen’s has awarded over $3 million in emergency bursaries.”
Green broke down the extra costs brought on by the pandemic, which he said are anticipated to add up to over $10 million. These costs include things such as additional information technology support, teaching related expenses, cleaning protocols, and other COVID-19 expenses. These expenses will come at a time when the University is experiencing significant revenue losses from suspended on-campus services that are typically used to fund student services.
“Due to the uncertainty of the environment, we expect further unplanned expenses to be incurred over the course of the academic year,” he said.
Finally, Green pointed to the plethora of services the University will still be providing its students through the coming school year, which also come with their own sets of expenses.
“It is important to note that a wide range of services, including academic support and resources, administrative services at the program level, scholarship and financial support, and information technology services, paid in part from tuition fees, continue to be available to support students,” he said.
“Most information resources or library collections are available electronically through the Queen’s University Library, which has begun a phased approach to making print materials available for curbside pickup. The Library also has some space available for students with an urgent need for study space or internet access. Student support services such as the Queen’s University International Centre, Four Direction Indigenous Student Centre, Student Academic Success Services, and Student Wellness services are also available.”