Lethbridge post-secondary students question extra fees during COVID-19

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Post-secondary students question extra fees during COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Some Lethbridge students say they are concerned about paying fees for services and facilities they will not have access to due to COVID-19. As Emily Olsen reports, University of Lethbridge officials have already introduced a few options to help alleviate the financial burden – Sep 25, 2020

First year University of Lethbridge student Elisha Wong says school-related costs are a lot to handle this year given the switch to virtual programs.

“With COVID, it does limit a lot of the things that we can do,” Wong said. “Even though, we are paying pretty much the same amount for the same experience.”

National deputy chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, Nicole Brayianni, said she’s heard those concerns repeatedly, and adds it’s a national issue.

Read more: Coronavirus: Alberta universities look to mostly online courses for fall semester

”When we look at the fall semester and increasing tuition fees despite the fact that in the summertime and now continuing into the fall, the job market has been non-existent,” Brayiannis said, “young people and students as a diverse demographic have been really feeling the toll of that.”

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U of L Students’ Union VP of Finance, Ethan Pullan, said the group was prepared for these concerns and has worked with the university to lower the fees for athletics facilities by 25 per cent.

“We were able to get students priority access into those facilities. So it might not be necessarily that we’re lowering the cost [by much], but we are at least able to provide an additional service to those students who are still paying those fees.”

The Students’ Union has also negotiated a new opt-out option for UPass transit fees.

Read more: Post-secondary students concerned about suspension of U-Pass transit pass

“Normally students aren’t allowed to opt-out,” Pullen explained. “It’s a fee that you have to pay regardless of if you’re using the bus or not if you’re in Lethbridge.

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“Given that a lot of our students may not feel comfortable using our public transit, we were able to work with the university to remove the fee for students who wanted it this semester.”

Wong says even small negotiations like these make a big difference for those navigating their first or fourth year of post secondary.

“I was kind of nervous about it,” Wong admitted. “But there are options to opt out of some fees, which is really nice.”

In a statement to Global News on Friday afternoon the University of Lethbridge said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected post-secondary institutions across the country and throughout the world in varying degrees. The University of Lethbridge is no exception, and has had to scale back its on-campus activities as a result.

“The University has had an ongoing dialogue with the Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association and has worked with our student representatives to limit fees where possible.

“Some examples include the ability for students to opt out of the UPass universal bus pass fee, a 25 per cent reduction in the Sport and Recreation Services fee and the introduction of an optional four-month parking permit.

“While the majority of the university’s activities have been shifted to an online model, a full range of student services, such as registration, mental health, health clinic, accommodated learning, access to co-op and career services, tutoring, and more remain available. New student services have also been added to support academic advising, online learning strategies and health and wellness. 

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“As well, in recent weeks, the 1st Choice Savings Centre fitness facility, Max Bell Regional Aquatic Centre and Community Stadium have reopened for use. Anderson Hall and the Students’ Union Building are both open and access to WIFI, study space, food services, library services and more is available.

“The pandemic has put the university in uncharted territory, including having to make decisions on how to provide a safe, supportive and robust student experience.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Lethbridge university and college prepare for students in residences

In regards to the remaining fees for on-campus supports and facilities, Pullen said there is value in maintaining certain standards.

“These services provide such a valuable resource to our students that if we want them to exist in the future, we have to pay at least something.”

Pullan said with this taken into account, the union will continue to push for reductions to students’ financial burdens wherever possible for the upcoming semester.

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