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International students’ tuition fees continue rising

Students concerned with disparity between international and domestic fees
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Some University of Toronto students are concerned with the difference between domestic student fees and international student fees. On average, international students in a first-year arts and science program pay 240 per cent more in tuition fees compared to domestic students. Over the course of a four-year degree program in the Faculty of Arts & Science, international students can expect to pay as much as $100,000 more than domestic students.

At U of T, where tuition fees are set by the Governing Council, the difference between domestic tuition fees and international tuition fees is expected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future. In the coming year, tuition fees are scheduled to rise by 7.2 per cent for international students and by 4.3 per cent for domestic students.

Mrinalini Dayal, a fourth-year international student in the Faculty of Arts & Science, is “vehemently opposed to the extreme [difference] between international and local fees.” Although Dayal concedes that international student fees at Canadian institutions are “relatively lower” than those in other countries, she feels that the difference is unfair.

Chris Fernlund, member of the Steering Committee for the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), agrees. Fernlund believes that the difference between domestic and international tuition unfairly penalizes international students from low-income backgrounds.

“While the costs associated with international students are higher than those associated with domestic students, due to the cost of international recruitment programs and international student services provided on campuses, the massive increase universities have levied against international students certainly exceeds these costs,” he says. “OUSA believes that the Province has a responsibility to regulate international student tuition to ensure that international students are not being unfairly burdened financially.”

Some argue that dedicated resources for international students, such as the International Student Advising Office, justify higher fees. Dayal disagrees with this assessment. “The [Center for International Experience] is really the only resource we have and I don’t think it’s adequate,” Dayal notes. “With the fees that international [students] pay, there should be more resources available to us.”

Like Dayal, Pierina Camarena, a second-year international student in the Faculty of Arts and Science, believes that international students are not afforded the same opportunities as domestic students in terms of financial aid, scholarship opportunities, and study abroad opportunities. International students are also ineligible for coverage under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Still, some international students feel the difference between domestic fees and international fees is fair. Bruno Cervantes, a second-year international student in the Faculty of Arts & Science, knew that attending a post-secondary institution outside of Peru, his home country, would be costly. “By choosing an international education, I knew the cost [was] going to be high regardless of place.” Cervantes notes that international tuition fees for a single year at U of T amount to domestic tuition fees for four years of an undergraduate degree in Peru. Taking into account the quality of education that U of T students receive, however, Cervantes feels the difference is justified.

Cullen Brown, a third-year international student in the Faculty of Arts & Science and a member of the University of Toronto Students’ Union board of directors, agrees: “I understand the rationale behind the discrepancy,” Brown states. “Coming from the [United States], I would end up paying a lot either way. I knew that in order to go to a good school, I would need to pay.”

Brown’s sentiment is common among international students. Although fees for international students are high at Canadian post-secondary institutions, they are often lower than fees at post-secondary institutions with the same quality of education in other countries. Tuition at top American universities, for example, can run upwards of $50,000.

Before 1983, there was no difference between domestic tuition fees and international tuition fees in Ontario. That changed in 1996 when the government of Ontario declared international students ineligible for government funding. Currently, the federal and provincial governments provide per-student operating grants to post-secondary institutions. There are no per-student operating grants for international students. In any given year, the federal and provincial governments subsidize approximately half of the fees incurred by a domestic student, while international students receive no subsidy.

Domestic and international tuition fee schedules are regulated under Ontario’s Tuition Framework. Under the Framework, domestic tuition fees are capped at 3 per cent per year for most programs and 5 per cent for professional programs. International tuition fee increases, which are unregulated, are under the control of individual post-secondary institutions.

In an email to The Varsity, Gyula Kovacs, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said that Ontario’s funding is targeted mainly at domestic students. “The government’s priority is to continue to strengthen the quality of our post-secondary education system and to focus on accessibility for Ontario students,” Kovacs notes. “That said, the Ontario government is working with colleges and universities to make Ontario a global destination of choice for post-secondary education.”

For now, Ontario’s focus is on improving the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education for Ontario students. At the moment, Kovacs notes, “There are no plans to change the current funding structure for international students.” That means that any reduction in the difference between domestic student fees and international student fees will have to come from post-secondary institutions. The University of Windsor, for example, recently announced a policy that will lower its tuition for American students to $5,000 per semester.

With 59,000 international students currently in Ontario, Kovacs says that the province is committed to enhancing the international student experience. “Our role is to ensure that the bar is set high for post-secondary education in Ontario through the implementation of a policy framework that protects our shared, earned global reputation for quality programs, student protection, and a positive student experience.” Kovacs cites a number of government programs as evidence of Ontario’s commitment to the international student experience. One such program, the Ontario Trillium Scholarships, provides top international PhD candidates at Canadian institutions with $40,000 annually over four years.