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Canadian students grow angry at full tuition fees amid pandemic

Marguerite Gallorini

Lawsuits against universities like Columbia, Drexel or the University of Pennsylvania are appearing across the United States, after more and more students feel like they’re not getting the quality of education they paid for before the pandemic hit. A similar trend is starting to appear right across the border.

“A few weeks ago, we launched the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) as part of our $9 billion plan to help young people get through the next few months,” announced Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.

Canadian students can apply for this benefit starting today [Friday]. But according to the Canadian Federation of Students, even with government support, many students will not be able to swing higher education come the fall.

According to a new survey commissioned by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students, 30 percent of students are thinking of changing their plans about enrolling at a college or university in the fall, and one in two students says it’s hard to afford tuition and living costs after COVID-19.

So students across Canada are asking higher education institutions to help out with tuition fees. “Because they’re better equipped to bear the financial burden than us students”, explains Ye En Kim, a student at McGill University in Montreal, who started a petition on Change.org to ask the university for partial refunds. “I thought it’s the students’ right to ask for the discounts for whatever that was not offered.”

Indeed, finances are not the only issue. McGill says it's not giving general refunds because it is “offering the educational services that [it] originally set out to provide.”

But when classes moved online - after two whole weeks without classes - Ye En Kim says the quality of education was worse than what students paid for. And that’s for the classes that got moved online at all. “McGill has to investigate how each course was done and offer a refund based on the courses that we took. … They did not ask questions about cancelled courses or those that did not use Zoom.”

Around the country, similar petitions popped up from students at the University of Windsor, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, and others. Some of these already gathered several thousand signatures.

And as several universities are shifting to online classes for the fall, three quarters of the students who are still planning to go back to school, according to the report previously mentioned, worry that online classes will create a poor learning experience.