University and college student unions across Ontario are bearing the brunt of budget cuts from a new initiative that was supposed to give students options.

The Ontario Student Choice Initiative (SCI), established by the Ontario government, allows students to opt-in or out of certain ancillary fees that go towards funding things like financial support programs, future skills development, student advocacy and government.

In a news release from January, former Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, said the SCI gives students the option to decide where their money goes and how it’s being used.

Guelph Humber’s optional ancillary fees total $55.95 and could be allocated towards things such as the school’s program engagement, student activity and alumni budgets; however, business student Ferly Pamorca saved “a bit of money here and there,” by opting out of all the optional fees this semester. She said some students opt out of certain fees because “[they] feel it’s unnecessary.”

screenshot of optional tuition fees

Screenshot of Guelph-Humber’s optional tuition fees for Fall 2019 via WebAdvisor, broken down into each category and cost.

Pamorca said that the student union has “significantly enriched,” her time at Guelph-Humber through things like the sleep lounge, various networking events and free menstrual kits provided by the student government; however, Pamorca said many students at the school are commuters, and that their limited time on campus affects their involvement with school events and services.

“Students don’t want to pay for things they don’t use,” Pamorca said.

Ercolé Perrone, executive director at Ignite, the non-profit student union representing the University of Guelph-Humber and both Humber campuses, said “20 per cent of revenue has been lost,” simply through students opting in or out of all or some of their ancillary fees which fund the organization.

Perrone says the SCI forces them to condense their thinking and focus on what Ignite can realistically accomplish during each semester with the funding they receive.

Ignite’s 2018-2019 operating budget infographic shows that nearly $6.7 million was allocated towards their services expenses, which goes towards the flexible health and dental insurance plan, student bursaries and financial relief. Along with hosting 44 social events across both campuses, Ignite’s website also boasts other campaigns such as a pay-what-you-can soup bar and other events and contests which are now in jeopardy due to the lack of funding through the optional fees via the SCI.

According to their website, Ignite gave out $400,000 in bursaries during the 2018-2019 year alone.

budget infographic

Ignite’s 2018-19 operating budget infographic (Ignite)

Ally Buso, an Ignite content writer, said that Ignite not only advocates for students but makes sure that they get the most out of their post-secondary experience by encouraging student success and development. She said that Ignite offers more than just academic and financial support. Buso said Ignite helps foster relationships between students from different programs through social events and communal spaces like the games room at Humber Lakeshore.

It affects students in ways they don’t necessarily realize,” she said.

The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O), along with the York Federation of Students (YFS), filed a legal challenge against the Ontario government. According to the CFS-O website, both organizations plan to argue that the provincial government does not have the authority to meddle within student union self-governance.

CFS-O chairperson Felipè Nagata said the Ford government made these decisions with a clear “intent and purpose,” to limit essential student services and limit student autonomy. Nagata said he’s heard many complaints from students across the province. He said students are angered by the budget cuts and the uncertain future and existence of their services and student unions.

Nagata said that although students may not notice the daily work of the CFS-O, students across the province and beyond all benefit from their lobbying efforts.