I have a friend whose has a professor who is forcing students to sign up for a website (that requires them to pay a monthly subscription fee) where they will be posting lectures, notes, assignments, etc. The professor did not inform them of this until a few days before the first class would be starting, meaning students who could not afford to pay it right away essentially couldn't attend class on the first day. We've had departments use different websites before, but this is the first time I'm hearing about someone using one that students have to pay out of pocket for. From what I know it functions the same way as Blackboard, but it isn't covered by the school. They are also expected to pay a lab fee and buy the textbook so it just seems like overkill, but I don't know if it's something that can be brought up as an issue to higher ups.
This started as a comment but I decided to give an opposing view from the one in Anonymus Physicist's answer.
As you might have guessed, the answer to this question is location dependant.
In my University in the UK, this is explicitly forbidden. It is, in fact, forbidden to ask students to register to any website or service in order to follow the course materials, even if the registration is free. There is a (fairly short) list of approved services, for which the University has ensured that they follow the (now local, but still based on GDPR) Privacy Laws, which students may be asked to use. This list is updated yearly, and I believe the process is substantially more complex than sending somebody an email saying "I want to use X in my classes next year".
As this is done to ensure compliance with Privacy Laws, I am fairly certain that all British Universities have the same clause. As the current Privacy Laws are still based on GDPR, originally passed as European Union legislation, I would guess that something similar is in effect through EU Universities as well.
(However, note that since UK Universities are ran much more like companies than public education institutions, as is common on the Continent, they are also much much more careful about any legal liability their actions might cause. So it might be less enforced outside of the UK.)
Talk to the student ombudsman about making a formal complaint.
You're paying for 13-ish weeks of education. If the professor's actions made it impossible for a large chunk of your class to receive the first week's lessons, I think that would be something that you would be justified complaining about to the relevant university authorities. Additionally, something like this would cause equity concerns, since a monthly subscription would cause more financial harm to some students than others, especially right now with the effects that Covid is having on the economy.
As a result, I would recommend that you talk to the student ombudsman at your university about making a formal complaint, and ask them what the proper process for it might be.
To provide a concrete example of what might/might not be allowed, here are the [abridged] rules governing "digital learning resources" at my university (Ontario, Canada). The reference to "Ministry Guidelines" suggests that they would be similar across the province. Most of the rules below seem fair and sensible to me ... it wouldn't necessarily rule out the situation you described, unless the web site fees were too expensive/unaffordable (I've emphasized relevant bits below).
In line with the Ministry Guidelines, [the University] permits the following:
- Instructors may require students to purchase:
- Access to DLR [digital learning resources] including e-textbooks, simulations, assessments, remote response devices and software for the duration of the course; ...
- Instructors may require the use of DLR materials in the same fashion as they would use a printed textbook (i.e. as content that can be the source of assignments and assessments that are evaluated directly by instructors and their TAs. No more than 20 percent of a course grade may be from purchased DLR assessment tools (i.e. assignments assessed not by the instructor, but by the DLR itself), unless written approval is first obtained from the appropriate Associate Dean of the Faculty.
- Instructors should endeavor to keep the costs of DLR and devices at a level that students can reasonably afford. DLR costs should not exceed the total costs normally associated with non-DLR learning materials (i.e. printed textbooks) for a particular course. If DLR materials are in addition to printed learning materials for a course, they should not amount to more than an additional 10% of learning materials costs.
- In situations where acquiring the DLR and/or device would cause undue hardship, instructors should provide students with an alternative assessment method or a more affordable option.
- Instructors must notify students if digital assessment is required or optional on their syllabus or course outline and/or on their course website before classes begin. There must be a clear outline of the percentage of the total course grade that relates to the use of DLR-specific assessments.
- Faculty departments should maintain a record of all required and optional DLR used by instructors.
This is typically permitted or at least not forbidden.
It is much more common that you pay in one payment at the start of the course, as opposed to monthly, but it's essentially the same as a textbook rental, which is common and often digital.
If you think the price is too high, you can certainly complain.