Almost five months after the usual refund return date, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association’s (UWSA) health plan opt-out money is finally being delivered to students.
According to the UWSA, the refunding of more than $300,000 of students’ money was postponed due to a computer error.
“Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 students opt out of the health plan, which varies depending on how many students become part-time students in the following term,” said Lana Hastings, vice-president of student services for the UWSA, in an email.
Most full-time students can expect to receive about $200 back if they choose to opt out of the plan.
This year, the distribution of the money is backlogged due to an update installed in the university’s computer system which caused the refund mechanism for the health plan to break.
“The UWSA health plan is a DataTel customization,” said Kim Benoit, director of the business solutions technology centre for the University of Winnipeg. “Software updates were implemented last September and they broke one part of that customization. Fees were still firing and working correctly, but refunds broke.”
The university has used DataTel as its software and information processor since 2006. Before this error, the university never thought to include the UWSA in its cyclical software update implementations, which happen every three months.
When the error occurred in late September, the university contracted a third party to fix the software.
“The third party vendor built the custom piece (for the health plan) and they support and maintain the custom piece. ... We try to do as minimal customizations as possible because ... there’s no guarantee that (updates are) not going to break something,” added Benoit.
The third party worked on the project for a few hours before Benoit’s information technology team took over, citing the cost benefits of having internal staff fix the problem.
“My team picked up and did it on our own because we knew we had to get it done quickly, and we wanted to make sure the quality control was there,” she said.
With the new adjustments to the system, the process for opting out of the health plan is less complex than before.
Sarah Hibbert is a U of W student who knows the importance of getting her health plan refund money.
“I pay for school and rent – getting that money back really affects me,” said Hibbert.
Hibbert, like most students, expected her refund in October, but according to Benoit the timing could not have been worse for the malfunction.
“The one piece of the UWSA health plan that broke happened at the worst possible time,” said Benoit.
Now the staff at Centennial Hall’s health plan desk are working through the remaining refunds, ensuring students get paid appropriately.
“When the financial department sees excess on a student’s account, a cheque should be forwarded to them within six weeks,” said Hastings.
Published in Volume 65, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 3, 2011)