Guidelines Pertaining to Learning Resources and Field Trips

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) regulates fees that universities charge to students.  Fees charged in addition to tuition are governed through the MTCU ancillary fee protocol.

In December 2013, MTCU revised their Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines for Publically-Assisted Universities, 2013-14 to 2016-17.  These guidelines consider a compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fee to be “a fee which is levied to cover the costs of items which are not normally paid for out of operating or capital revenue.”  Below is a summary of the guidelines that relate to learning resources and field trips.  Appendix A provides a visual decision tree that illustrates the guidelines on the use of learning resources in UW courses.

Temporary Covid-19 Learning Resources Guidelines Exception Protocol: 

Deans, or Associate Deans Undergrad/Grad (as appropriate, acting as delegates of the Dean) may grant permission for instructors to require students to purchase digital learning resources used for course assessment (e.g. quizzes, interactive assignments), that cost $50-100/course, provided one of the following conditions applies;

  • Restrictions in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic have made a reasonable no- or lower fee alternative unfeasible.
  • The resource makes it possible to offer an online version of a (e.g., lab- or studio-based) course that would normally depend on resources located on campus, there are no alternatives that would result in a course of similar quality, and offering the course online now will enable students to progress in one or more academic programs.

Instructors may submit a request to the Associate vice-President, Academic to make a case for requiring such resources when they intend: 

  • To use learning resources that would cost more than $100/course
  • To use learning resources to assess more than 35% of the final course mark

In making a decision about a request, the AVPA may consult with representatives of WUSA or the GSA, as appropriate.

Guidelines Related to Learning Resources

The University of Waterloo recognizes the benefits that technology-enabled resources can provide to both students and their instructors, through enhanced engagement, greater achievement of learning outcomes and the provision of a broader array of assessment tools. Technology-enabled learning is firmly established across the spectrum of teaching and learning activity at the University of Waterloo. This includes fully online and blended courses, digital content, online examinations and quizzes, electronic submissions of assignments and reports, discussion groups, etc.

The University of Waterloo also recognizes the additional costs that learning resources pose to students, and that these costs need to be considered in balance with the enhanced learning environment they provide.  Instructors should endeavor to keep the total costs of all learning resources used in any course at a level that students can reasonably afford.

Prior to the most recent guidelines, MTCU effectively prohibited universities from requiring students to purchase digital learning resources and associated assessment tools created by third-party vendors. The latest MTCU guidelines recognize the “contribution that these resources can make to the quality of teaching and learning, including support for adaptive learning and formative assessment.” Importantly, MTCU has delegated the responsibility for developing policies on the use of third-party digital learning resources to universities, and this document outlines these policies for the University of Waterloo.

MTCU’s revised ancillary fee guidelines establish clearly that institutions can require students to purchase third-party digital learning resources that can include test/assessment tools. The guidelines indicate further that “where a course or program relies substantially on assessments that are included with a learning resource, such as an online textbook, the Ministry expects universities to have a policy with respect to their students’ interests in these situations.”

In the spirit of the MTCU guidelines, the University of Waterloo has determined the following:

  • While instructors cannot require students to purchase specific physical and/or digital textbooks, students may need to arrange access to required [1] resources. Students can choose to access these resources through a variety of other means including purchasing older versions or alternative texts, sharing a text with a classmate, or accessing copies through the library (when available).  When instructors include a textbook as required in the course syllabus it is understood that it is access to the material in the text that is required. Students have alternatives in how they choose to access this material, and thus purchase is not mandatory.
  • Instructors can make it mandatory that students purchase material learning resources which become the property of the student and are retained beyond the completion of the course. These learning materials include:
    • a hard-ware based clicker device such as the IST-supported iClicker, or software with similar functionality;
    • learning resources such as art supplies, optometry kits, and laboratory equipment  (e.g. lab coats, goggles).
  • When instructors choose to use physical and/or digital textbooks that have bundled software or online access to additional learning resources used in assessment, students must have options to purchase the component used in assessment separately.
  • When digital learning resources support the learning objectives of the course (such as simulations, online quizzes and other interactive assignments), instructors may use digital learning resources provided by third-party vendors for assessment, provided that the cost of these resources is no more than $50[2] (for a single term half-credit course) and the assessment constitutes 20% or less of the final grade in the course. Values above 20% (to a maximum of 35%) must be approved by the Dean of the Faculty.
    • If either of these conditions (cost and grade value) are not satisfied, the instructor must provide students with a no fee alternative.  For example, this can take the form of alternative assignments, tests or quizzes (which could be online, but at no cost to students), an alternative grading scheme for the course, or access to the digital learning resource used for assessment through on-campus lab at no cost to students.
  • Exceptions can be made when digital learning resources (such as software) are an integral part of the content of the course (e.g., purchasing Java in a course on Java programming).  Instructors can make it mandatory that students purchase access to third-party digital learning resources in these cases. Exceptions need to be approved by the Dean of the Faculty.

The University of Waterloo recognizes that there may be unique instances that are not captured in the above guidelines, for example the use of MapleTA in some Mathematics courses. These situations should be discussed with the Dean of the Faculty who will ensure, to the extent possible, that student interests are upheld, course learning objectives are met, and instructors are encouraged to provide the richest learning environment possible for students.

The University of Waterloo will be proactive in monitoring the use of third party digital learning resources and has determined that the above guidelines strike an appropriate balance between the desire to incorporate technology enabled learning, and the expense that these resources can impose to students. Instructors should communicate details concerning the use of third party digital resources clearly in their course outlines.

These guidelines will be reviewed annually using usage data and associated costs compiled by the University of Waterloo Book Store to track aggregate ancillary fees tied to the use of third party online learning resources.  In addition to costs, careful consideration will be given to the quality of the online learning material, the effectiveness on the teaching and learning experience and the supporting pedagogical and technical resources required on campus.

Guidelines Related to Field Trips

Field trips associated with credit-earning courses are also subject to MTCU guidelines. Instructors shall indicate as early as possible (e.g., in the course syllabus made available at the start of the term, and certainly no later than the course add deadline) whether additional fees are associated with their courses, and the fee amount

Instructors should be aware of the following:

  • Students cannot be charged fees for compulsory field trips outside the province of Ontario[3].
  • Students can be charged fees for the reasonable, direct costs of travel and accommodation on compulsory field trips within the province of Ontario.  Fees cannot contribute to the salaries and benefits, or travel and accommodation, of instructors or teaching assistants participating in the field trip. Charging students a tuition-related activity fee for compulsory field trips is not permitted.
  • Students can be charged fees for the reasonable, direct costs of travel and accommodation on elective, credit-earning field trips both within and outside the province of Ontario. The fees charged to students can contribute to offsetting the travel and accommodation costs of instructors or teaching assistants participating in the field trip but not their salaries and benefits. Any fees charged to students which offset instructor or teaching assistant costs must be approved by the Dean of the Faculty. Instructors are encouraged to seek financial assistance from their department or faculty in helping lower students' costs, where possible, and to make trip costing information readily available to students.


Please direct any questions regarding the MTCU ancillary fee protocol and the use of digital learning resources to David DeVidi, Associate Vice-President, Academic at, or Carrie MacKinnon, Institutional Analysis & Planning at


[1] In practice at UW, a required resource is understood to be strongly recommended, not strictly required.

[2] The $50 cap applies to the total cost of the resources used in any single half-credit course before any applicable taxes.

[3] Exemptions may be granted by the Ministry.  To discuss requesting an exemption please contact Institutional Analysis & Planning.

Endorsed by Deans' Council on 28 October 2015