New technology, lower fees and $6.4 million in financial aid: How U of T is supporting students this fall

Sandy Welsh
Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students, says the university has taken a number of steps to support students during an unusual year (photo by Johnny Guatto)

As it prepares for a safe, gradual return to campus this fall, the University of Toronto has taken steps to create a safe environment for its community and deliver an unparalleled educational experience.

But U of T has also taken steps to alleviate the financial pressure on students during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes cuts to incidental fees across all three campuses and providing millions of dollars in financial assistance.

Writer Paul Fraumeni recently spoke with Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students, about the steps U of T has taken to support students during an unusual year. 

Is U of T reducing incidental fees for this fall semester?

In many cases, yes, incidental fees are being reduced. But, first, I think it is important to explain what incidental fees are, particularly for those students who are new to university this fall. 

These fees support the student experience and student wellbeing and are charged on a compulsory basis to each U of T student based on their registration in a division or program. These fees are charged in addition to tuition and cover the costs of the services and programs. Incidental fees include university-operated services like health and wellness, athletic and recreation facilities, and career centre services.  Student societies also charge incidental fees to support their programs and services in support of the student experience.

As each of our campuses has different local needs, costs and services, the fees vary by campus. This informed our approach to reducing incidental fees for fall 2020. Our services are still being offered and many have moved online to meet the needs of our students no matter where they are living. This fall some services will be available in person. Those services available on-campus are determined by following public health and government guidelines.

Which fees are being reduced?

There are a number of them. Let me give you a few examples. 

On all three campuses, the KPE Sport and Recreation fee is being reduced by 30 per cent and the Hart House fee by 20 per cent.  At U of T Mississauga, the athletics fee is being reduced by 25 per cent. At U of T Scarborough, the athletics fee is being reduced by 40 per cent. At St. George, the Student Life fee is being reduced by 10 per cent.  At U of T Mississauga, the Student Services fee is being reduced by 35 per cent, which includes the eliminiation of the fee for the shuttle bus service, which is suspended. At U of T Scarborough, the student services fee is being reduced by 25 per cent.

Additionally, some student societies have reduced their fees for this term.

What about tuition fees?

U of T is not reducing tuition fees. We are offering a full calendar of academic programming this year led by our dedicated faculty members and instructors. We have also invested heavily to create a new kind of learning experience that’s tailored to the realities of COVID-19. Tuition fees help cover the cost of the equipment, technology and professional expertise needed to teach and learn in this new environment. 

Many of our students are doing their learning in a virtual classroom and not in-person. When we suddenly learned we could no longer do in-person classes in March because of the lockdown, our faculty members did their best with technologies like Zoom. But we all knew we could – and wanted to – do better for the fall term. U of T has earned its reputation as one of the world’s top-ranked universities because of our research and because of the quality of our learning experience and, even in the COVID-19 era, we fully intend to continue to offer that level of education. So, professors and staff have worked with over 100 educational technologists to design a learning experience that makes use of the best in online technology. In many cases, professors have spent the summer months experimenting and perfecting new course delivery methods for this fall

What will those fall courses look like?

In some cases, there will be some students who participate in-person, in a physically distanced classroom, alongside a small number of other students. These classes will be combined with students who are accessing the course online. Again, we have worked with professionals in how to accommodate both groups – both in terms of health and safety and in terms of effective learning. That includes adding technology including lecture capture, screens and simulcast hardware in classrooms so students participating in person, while wearing masks, can interact with those who are online – and everyone can see and hear each other during discussions.

What about financial supports for students?

The university has provided about $6.4 million in emergency funding to students who are facing unexpected costs because of COVID-19. I strongly encourage students to access this funding if they need it. It’s there specifically for them.

International students are facing special challenges. What support is available for them?

We’ve worked hard on this and are ready to help our international students with a wide range of services and support and to make sure these are available to them no matter where they are living.

First, we are providing access to immigration advisers who can answer questions about student permits, taking on-line courses, travelling to Canada and what to expect when they arrive. International students should get in touch with the international advisors available on their campus. [For further information, students can contact at U of T Mississauga, at U of T Scarborough and on the St. George campus].

When international students arrive in Canada, they will need to quarantine. We will provide accommodations for that 14-day period and that will include meals, health checks and other support.  I emphasize this will be at no cost to our international students. We are committed to making this process safe and as comfortable as possible for our international students, who play a key role in our campus community and help provide U of T with a uniquely global outlook. 

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