Tuition fees for new incoming international students are set to increase by 9.2 per cent next year. Fees for existing international students are set to increase by 5 per cent. Scott Mabury, vice-president, university operations, unveiled the plan at a meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on March 3. On average, tuition fee increases are assumed to be three per cent for domestic students and 6.5 per cent for existing international students each year of the five-year budget cycle: 2014–2015 to 2018–2019.

At the meeting, Mabury characterized international student enrolment as a “14-year experiment,” adding that, “when we increase international tuition fees, applications go up, and the take-up rate goes up.” A recent provincial government plan established a target to increase the number of international students by 50 per cent — to a total of 57,000 students — by 2015. Compounded, international tuition fees have risen over 50 per cent over the last five years.

Domestic and international tuition fee schedules are regulated under Ontario’s Tuition Framework. Under the framework, domestic tuition fees are capped at three per cent per year for most programs and five per cent for graduate and professional programs. International tuition fee increases, however, are unregulated — individual post-secondary institutions can increase these fees as much as they like.

As per the university’s tuition fee policy, no student entering a program from 2012–2013 onwards will be subjected to a fee increase of more than 5.69 per cent per year for the normal length of the full-time program of study.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) have both called on the provincial government to regulate international fee increases.

“There is a real double standard here,” said Cameron Wathey, who is running for re-election to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) as vice-president, internal, with Team U of T Voice. “International students deserve the same rights as domestic students, not simply because we contribute to the tax base and the growth of the economy, not simply because many international students decide to stay in Canada after graduation and work within Canada, but simply because we all deserve access to affordable post-secondary education,” he added.

Wathey outlined the platform for U of T Voice, which includes lobbying the provincial government for the regulation of international student fees, pressuring the government for the removal of the recently introduced $750 international student fee, and advocating for international student seats on Governing Council. Under the University of Toronto Act, international students are currently unable to serve on Governing Council because they are not Canadian citizens.

“This discrepancy raises serious concerns to suggest that international students are being used to compensate for funding gaps in other underfunded sectors within the university,” said Anna Yin, who is running for election to the UTSU as vice-president, internal, with Team Unite. “As a team that believes in equal opportunity and a fair education for all, we believe we must address the university administration and raise concerns within the upcoming provincial elections to suggest regulations for international tuition to be based on the real cost of education,” she added.

Yin outlined the platform for Team Unite, which includes pushing university administration to create more needs-based scholarships for international students, lobbying the provincial government to ensure that universities provide more international student support services, and lobbying the provincial government to allow international students to enroll in OHIP without paying an additional premium.

Zakary Paget, special assistant, communications, for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, offered little information on provincial government funding for international students. “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.” Paget did not offer any information on what that policy framework would include.

“I think we’re very transparent about the fees that international students are charged. They understand this before they decide to apply,” said Richard Levin, university registrar, adding: “We’re clear about any scholarships in the letter of offer, and we determine our international targets based on academic priorities. But we have to reflect the full cost in international fees.” While the federal and provincial governments provide per-student operating grants to post-secondary institutions, there are no per-student operating grants for international students.

“[W]e will only go as far as we feel is academically appropriate in terms of number of students,” said Sally Garner, executive directo of the planning and budget office. “The tuition has to be a reasonable rate when you compare it internationally to the quality institutions compared to U of T.”

Katerina Valle, a fourth-year anthropology student from Peru, contended that the fee increases are unexpected. “Most of us find out about the yearly increase when we are already enrolled. When I applied to U of T, I thought I would be paying [$20,000] every year. Next year, my tuition is going to be [$30,000]. People have budgets — if U of T can’t help from raising tuition, they should at least be clear about it,” she says.

Other international students, like Shah Taha, a second-year international relations and contemporary Asian studies student from Hong Kong, argued that the cost of international undergraduate tuition does not reflect the level of services international students receive: “What is perhaps most important is to give international students their money’s worth. Facilities provided at U of T are below par for the amount charged.”

Levin said that the cost of international undergraduate tuition is not a reflection of additional services for international students: “We set fees to try and recover the full cost of the educational experience. There are certainly services for international students — the Centre for International Experience, various divisions have particular supports in place, programs run specifically for international students — we work hard to try and support them. But the fee is really meant to reflect the cost of education.”

Some international students also expressed concern over the amount of financial aid that international undergraduate students receive. In 2012–2013, $164 million in student aid was given out to undergraduate and graduate students. Just $5 million in aid — merit-based and emergency — was provided to international students.

According to the university’s Policy on Student Financial Support, “No student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means.” However, the policy does not fully apply to international students: “International students must demonstrate that they have sufficient resources to meet their financial needs in order to qualify for a student visa. They are not eligible for the university’s guarantee offered to domestic students.”

Valle expressed concern over this: “There are a lot of programs, scholarships, opportunities that are restricted to Canadians and residents only …  [International students] pay more and we are excluded,” she said, adding: “International students pick Canada because it is cheaper.”

Michael Kozakov, a third-year computer science student from Israel, agreed: “Unlike most top universities in the United States, U of T does not offer financial aid packages, and the merit-based scholarships cover at most 4 per cent of tuition fees. Given the amount of emphasis U of T puts on the diversity of the student body, I find these numbers very underwhelming.”

“I do not believe that the government should subsidize all international students (some students already receive government support from their home countries, others have quite high social economic status backgrounds), but I believe that there is a responsibility to provide support for top students with high levels of need,” said Dr. Glen Jones, Ontario research chair in post-secondary education policy and measurement and professor of higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). However, Jones also pointed out that financial support for U of T graduate students is among the highest in the country.

Levin claimed that the low level of financial aid for international undergraduate students arises from the university’s decision to prioritize domestic students. “The only real source of support, if we were to provide additional support for international students, would be tuition and grant revenue from domestic students,” he said.

“Some governments have found the introduction of [international] scholarships politically difficult,” Jones added. “The Ontario government announced new scholarships for international students several years ago and received a great deal of criticism from opposition and some student organizations based on the notion that funds should be devoted to assisting Ontario students rather than international students.”

The university projects a balanced budget for 2014–2015, with $2 billion in revenues matched by $2 billion in expenses.