A recent Ignite campaign titled “student choice initiative risks my” saw a total of 5000 hand-written student postcards delivered to the Ford government during the Feb. 4 student march at Queen’s Park to protest changes to the Ontario post-secondary education system.

Ignite president Monica Khosla transported the green and black postcards, which were created to challenge the decision to give students options to opt out of paying certain student fees.

An example of the Ignite postcards sent to Doug Ford's office.

An Ignite postcard, which was among the many sent to Doug Ford’s office. (Amanda Naccarato/GH360)

A letter posted on the student organization’s website, explains that the Conservative government failed to recognize that students are using resources Ignite offers such as services, events and clubs.

“By not having student unions, you no longer have a voice,” says Khosla addressing the student body.

The Ford government announced several changes to universities and colleges across Ontario in January. They include reducing the cost of tuition by 10 per cent, changing the guidelines of OSAP and giving students choice in terms of student fees.

Maheen Nazim, the vice-president of Ignite representing the University of Guelph-Humber, says she appreciates the reduced tuition but is unsure about the other implications of these changes. This includes the uncertainty of mandatory fees.

Student fees allow for everyone to have the ability to use services available to them. “If I don’t use it someone else can,” says Nazim.

Ignite receives its funding solely from student fees, according to Nazim. She explains that full-time students paid $459.70 for all non-academic fees this year. A total of $163 of the student fees goes towards funding the student government.

She says Ignite is confident in their funding for the next year as they have budgeted two years in advance. However, they are concerned about the jeopardy of the amenities they offer.

“We don’t want to compromise services,” explains Nazim.

Conservative Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini says allowing students to only pay for the services they use is part of “putting students first.”

The parliamentary assistant to the minister of training, colleges and universities concedes much is still unknown about how student choice will be incorporated into the 2019 fall semester. But Piccini says students will pay the “percentage of the pot they choose to opt into.”

According to Piccini, the fees may be bundled into certain categories such as “sports and athletics” and “culture and arts.” Health and safety fees are non-negotiable.

Currently, there is no list available of what fees students will be able to opt in and out of.

Vice-provost and chief academic officer of Guelph-Humber John Walsh explains universities and colleges are involved in “technical meetings” with the ministry to get the definitive list of mandatory student fees.

Walsh says opting out of student fees is more complex than the 10 per cent tuition cut also being imposed in the 2019 academic year as “different programs have different auxiliary fees.”

This still raises questions regarding whether fees such as Ignite’s health and dental insurance plan would be included in this list of non-negotiable fees. Nazim is also unsure of what falls under these categories of compulsory and non-compulsory fees.

“It’s very tough being a student,” says Nazim, who helped encourage students to sign Ignite postcards.  “It feels unfair.”