The Downside of Automatic Enrolment

Posted by: | August 28, 2009 | Comments Off on The Downside of Automatic Enrolment

The Faculty of Graduate Studies (FoGS) recently implemented “automated continuous thesis registration”, which works as follows:

“Starting in Summer 2009, when students register in a thesis or dissertation course once, their registration in that course will automatically roll each term until the end of the student’s program (excepting if they are on leave).’

On the surface this seems pragmatic. In the original email which went out last May they hoped that it would make life easier for students, faculty and staff. They also allege that students not registering was a common occurrence, causing UBC to lose out on some tuition fees and provincial funding.

Some red flags started going up when this email arrived in July from FoGS (excerpt):

“Evidently there is a problem with the online graduation application system. There seems to be a problem with the new SSC they launched and the application only works for about half of those applying. The graduation department at Enrolment Services is responsible for this and the Faculty of Graduate Studies has no control over it. They are aware of the problem, but will not be fixing it anytime soon…”

It seems quite risky to put students in the situation where they are enrolled for courses automatically while at the same time the graduation application system is not working properly. What happens if the student’s graduation application is somehow mishandled or lost and the student ends up automatically enrolled for the next term?

Unfortunately, something similar to this has already happened and the answer is that UBC takes the student to court in an attempt to collect the fees. See this 2008 decision: UBC Enrolment Services Office vs. Gregory Magolan.

It’s a pretty easy read for a court document, but the executive summary is as follows: a student in engineering deferred his registration in the co-op program and was told he would not be charged tuition fees as long as his registration was deferred. Notwithstanding, the faculty automatically enrolled him in co-op courses and fees were levied. He didn’t even find out he owed fees until after the term in question was over. When he didn’t pay, UBC Enrolment Services took him to court.

The bright side in this is that UBC ended up losing the case. However, the fact that UBC Enrolment Services would even pursue legal action in the first place against a student in these circumstances is worrisome. I won’t deny it’s convenient never having to sign into the SSC to register for courses. But when I think about it realistically, it only saves me about 30 seconds on the SSC twice a year. I think that amount of effort is worth having peace of mind that I won’t be taken to court by UBC.

Of course, maybe I’m a bit more cautious than others because I have also experienced the fact that even though rules exist, it doesn’t mean they will be followed. I have been trying every year, unsuccessfully, to get UBC to follow Senate rules surrounding university awards, and no one was willing to acknowledge that their procedures were inconsistent with the rules. (Finally the rules were changed at February’s senate meeting so I’m glad to report the system works albeit slowly. Thankfully not as slowly as Credit/D/Fail.)

I’m very interested to hear more from UBC Enrolment Services and the Faculty of Graduate Studies about what safeguards are in place within the automatic enrolment system to prevent graduate students from being wrongly enrolled in thesis courses and then pursued for payment, especially given difficulties with the graduation application system.


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