University tuitions on the rise despite move to online courses amid COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Universities raise tuition fees despite moving courses online'
Universities raise tuition fees despite moving courses online
Many Canadian universities will start classes online for the upcoming semester, but tuition fees are also rising as a result. – Jul 25, 2020

It’s an unprecedented time for everybody, and like many businesses and organizations, universities don’t have a clear road map for dealing with a pandemic.

As the world adjusts to life with COVID-19, universities are following the advice of public health officials and doing what they can to limit group gatherings — that means across the country the majority of post-secondary courses will be taking place online.

Online learning is something that students have already dipped their toes into. When the pandemic first hit, universities scrambled to allow students to finish off the last few weeks of their semesters remotely.

“A lot of the in-depth learning that could have been done, didn’t get to be fully fleshed out,” said student Blair Nicholson.

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He’ll be completing his fourth year at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S., in the fall, but says he’s not looking forward to finishing classes online. He’s started a petition calling for the university to reduce tuition fees.

“I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think [tuition fees are] justified because the lower quality of education isn’t something that should cost more.”

From the east coast to the west, all across the country, similar petitions have popped at, all calling for the same thing. But many universities are actually going in the opposite direction and increasing tuition.

Both Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S., are increasing tuition by three per cent. One province over, the University of New Brunswick is increasing tuition by 2 per cent. In Quebec, McGill University is sticking with its scheduled 3.1 per cent increase and students at the University of Winnipeg will pay on average 3.75 per cent more for the 2020-2021 school year. New students at the University of Calgary will be 7 per cent more than their colleagues did last year while returning students will see a 5 per cent increase.

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Regardless of the amount of the increase, students are in agreement — online learning should cost less than in-class education, not more.

“We’re getting less of an education in our opinion for more cost,” said Michaela Dickens, an anthropology student at Saint Mary’s University.

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While some schools will be offering some classes in person, Saint Mary’s is moving fully online, and Dickens says it takes away those hands-on experiences that students like her rely on.

“I’ve done a number of courses, one in particular paleopathology, where in order to really study the course itself you have to actually be physically there to see the bones,” she said.

“Or for landscape archaeology, you need to be there and using the equipment to know what you’re doing and you’re losing that aspect when you’re completely online.”

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But universities are defending tuition increases. In many cases, they say the increase is already part of multi-year agreements.

Meanwhile, Universities Canada which represents universities across the country says that switching to online doesn’t mean the cost of offering programs has decreased. According to President Paul Davidson, in some cases, it can actually increase costs.

“It’s not just transferring content online, it’s redesigning the courses and thinking of new forms of pedagogy, thinking about new tools and new resources that are available to bring into the online experience,” said Davidson.

To help students struggling with the cost of education many universities as well as the federal government have increased the availability of financial aid.

Click to play video: 'New federal aid program for post-secondary students'
New federal aid program for post-secondary students

But many students maintain that online learning just isn’t the same as an on-campus education and is not what they signed up for.

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In online petitions calling for reduced tuition some students say they are considering legal action, and already in Quebec students are seeking permission to file a class-action lawsuit calling for a partial refund of their last semester’s tuition.

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