With unpredictable modes of instruction and the perpetual risk of catching COVID-19 in classrooms, online alternatives have ensured students are able to fulfill their credits from a pandemic-safe distance. Physically and financially accessible online services have been especially critical for all students, who are paying the same amount of tuition for virtual instruction as they would for an in-person curriculum at UC Berkeley.
This is precisely why UC Berkeley’s Instructional Resilience and Enhancement Fee, or IREF, is shockingly uncalled for. The IREF is a semesterly charge for essential services such as Microsoft, Adobe, bCourses, Matlab and more, amounting to about $278 per academic year in addition to the annual campus fee of $6,571.50: the cherry on top of an already formidable tuition.
Controversies surrounding student access to technology began in April 2021, as the measure to extend the Student Technology Fund, or STF, failed in the ASUC elections due to a lack of student voter turnout. In December 2021, ASUC officials proposed a replacement for the STF that would charge $35 per semester instead. Sadly, this proposal was disregarded as the campus moved forward with the IREF, which would be implemented in the 2022-23 academic year.
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said the ASUC’s new STF plan, costing $35 per semester, would not include Adobe, Zoom Pro, Matlab or Microsoft and would only cover a portion of operating costs. The IREF, she said, would cover all previous STF fees and additional software, while purchasing the software as a campus would cost less per student than if students were to purchase the software on their own.
While the IREF has been justified as a shift to modern instruction, Gilmore said “state funding and tuition models … have not been adjusted to reflect the role technology now plays in modern instruction.”
Students are well aware of this fact.
Requiring an additional, annual $278 fee from students for online resources, especially as tuition has not been reduced, is simply exploitative. These services should be provided free of cost.
Especially after paying full tuition for a year learning on Zoom — without access to essential campus resources — the decision to pursue the IREF feels like a dismissal of basic student needs. Resources such as Zoom, bCourses and campus emails facilitate students’ educations and should be covered free of cost by UC Berkeley.