The University of Toronto is colloquially referred to as “the Harvard of the North,” and attracts thousands of students from across the globe with its prestigious reputation. An Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) report, however, says that the university may not be doing enough to support its diverse population of international students.
The ASSU has released the Global Voices Report that seeks to identify issues of specific concern to international students and proposes solutions. Thirty-eight respondents participated in two focus groups over the past year.
One issue addressed by the report was international tuition fees. When survey participants were asked if they had faced any financial difficulties, the majority expressed that they felt international fees were too high. Tuition fees for international students range from $11,160 to $40,000 per year, with the sticker price for books reaching up to $1,400.
In comparison, domestic students face tuition fees from $6,040 and up, depending on the program of study.
“Contrary to popular belief, there are a large amount of international students who do not come from privileged, wealthy families. Their families may be taking out a loan, remortgaging their homes… to send their children to a good international university. This puts additional stress and strain on international students, coupled with the academic pressures and the stress of being away from home,” says Abdullah Shihipar, ASSU president.
The university says it recognizes this disparity, citing reliance on market prices. “Like most other Universities, the University of Toronto charges differential tuition rates for international and domestic students. Our international tuition fees are set in the context of an international education market and we are competitive with our peer institutions,” says Althea-Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations.
Another issue addressed by the report was financial aid. Although undergraduate international students are eligible for general U of T admission scholarships, of which there are between 400 and 500, the Global Voices Report says that international students are dissatisfied with the accessibility to these types of services and appear to be generally unaware of what services the university offers.
The union is calling on the university to improve promotion of these resources, and is recommending that a distinct department be created to better address the needs of the international student community.
“We believe that such a department created by the Faculty of Arts and Science for international students should serve as a central hub for international students to find resources pertaining to them,” says Shihipar.
“The office would also be able to direct international students to other services and offices that would be of use to them (housing services, CIE, Health Services, etc.), answer frequently asked questions… so that international students are not left scrambling around for information,” he adds.
According to Blackburn-Evans, in 2012–2013, the university provided nearly $5 million in merit and need-based grants to approximately 1,600 international students.
She also cites a number of resources available to international students, including the Centre for International Experience, which offers a wide range of programs and services to help international students transition to U of T and Canada.
She also says the university has expanded eligibility for its work-study program to include international students.