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“Hidden fees” are for budget airlines — not universities.

There’s a thriving online market for course spots at Western. Students advertise on Facebook groups that they’re either selling or seeking a spot in a course; other students respond with an offer; they exchange cash and the deal’s done.

There are a couple of immediate problems with this. The most obvious one: your ability to register in courses shouldn’t be determined by how much money you have. It’s unethical; higher education should provide equal access to education for everyone.

This issue becomes much worse when the course in question is a mandatory one. Exploitative situations can arise where a student needs a particular course to graduate, but they’re not enrolled in it: other students, looking for a quick buck, can sit happy on their course spot and sell it to the highest bidder. 

Students already pay a hefty set of fees for tuition, textbooks and ancillary services. To introduce another level of commodification with a black market for course spots — that’s a dangerous game. Students who enrol in courses with the sole intention of selling their spots are exploiting their peers.

Western University has a responsibility to fix this. It is, in one sense, the university’s responsibility to ensure students are graduating on time with all of their requirements.

On the other hand, course requirements are rarely so black and white. It’s a complicated process, sometimes students might fail a course or switch their degree. Academic advisors do their best to help students through it, but there’s always going to be a slight element of chaos.

However, there are concrete changes we can implement to fix this. One option is a waitlist system, like the one at the University of Toronto — students trying to enrol in a full course will be added to a waitlist. This would require a fairly intensive change in infrastructure, but it would mitigate the problem.

Another option: when a student drops a course, a script could randomize when the course is available for registration again. This means the seller couldn’t guarantee a time to switch over the course, rendering the whole process of selling course spots ineffective.

These solutions will take time to be effective, and there’s no guarantee of success, but it’s a start. It’s a pity that this market for course spots exists in the first place, but it’s only going to get worse from here without decisive action from the administration.

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