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International tuition fees to increase by average of 6.2 per cent

Increases come amidst decreasing provincial support
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Jane You is the vice president, communications of the International Students Association (iNSA). FILE PHOTO: MAYA WONG/THE VARSITY
Jane You is the vice president, communications of the International Students Association (iNSA). FILE PHOTO: MAYA WONG/THE VARSITY

Tuition fees are set to rise for both international and domestic students.

Next year, domestic students will see an average rise of  three per cent for both incoming and continuing students, with Arts & Science programs seeing a three per cent increase and most professional programs seeing a five per cent increase. The increases are in line with the province’s tuition framework, which caps the annual overall increase at three per cent.

Current international students will see an increase of five per cent to their current tuition, while incoming Arts & Science students will see an increase of nine per cent and applied science and engineering students will see an increase of 10 per cent.

Unlike domestic students, the Provincial Tuition Framework does not regulate tuition fees for international students.

The Tuition Fees Schedule for 2015-2016 was approved by the university’s Business Board during a meeting last Monday. Student governors Benjamin Coleman and Caitlin Campisi were the only governors to vote against the schedule.

International support

Jane You, vice president, communications of the International Students Association (iNSA), feels that the increase in international tuition fees are not in line with the increase in international student support.

“A lot of these students come here with the aim of living here and getting a job here. And for the amount of help the university provides international students, the tuition fee increases aren’t justified,” she says.

Yeliz Beyo, iNSA vice-president, social, has previously applied to run for student governor, but was rejected as she was not a Canadian citizen.

Beyo echoes Jane’s sentiments, saying that the increase in tuition fees is “out of proportion” with the support for international students.

Beyo says that “it is important for international students to be involved” on Governing Council, given the fees they pay.

The university maintains that tuition fees remain competitive with peer institutions. Using Arts & Science tuition and incidental fees for comparison, the schedule showed that while domestic tuition fees were slightly higher than the median tuition of other peer Canadian post-secondary institutions, they were still far below the tuition fees at comparable US and UK universities.

Although international students continue to pay the highest tuition fees in the country, the university maintains that the fees remain competitive to top public American universities.

The university believes the comparison is “appropriate given the University of Toronto’s place in the international rankings and international student enrollment remains very strong.”

You acknowledges that international tuition fees in Canada are cheaper compared to the rest of the world, but expressed skepticism about the sustainability of the increases.

“I don’t really know how it’s viable, in terms of the university and the province increasing the international student population,” she says. You also noted that, given the way tuition fees were increasing, the university will be catching up to its US counterparts very soon.

Enrollment numbers indicate that far from being repelled by increasing tuition fees, international student enrollment is increasing. When taken as a percentage of total student population increase from 2002-2003 to 2014-2015, the growth of the international student population accounts for 44.9 per cent of the university’s total enrollment growth.

The university expects to see an increase of six per cent in international student enrollment next year.

However, You says that the financial burden on international students is reaching a tipping point.

“I know so many international students who are advising their friends against coming to U of T,” she says, noting that international students do not receive enough “tangible support for the amount they’re paying.”

Net Tuition

In the tuition fees schedule report for 2015-2016, the net tuition of an average undergraduate student in 2012-2013, a measurement that refers to the percentage of tuition that domestic students pay “after taking into account the contribution of both the Province, through OSAP grants, and the university, through its various non-repayable grant and scholarship programs,” stood at 22 per cent.

In the tuition fees schedule report for 2014-2015, the net tuition of an average undergraduate student in 2012-2013 was 48 per cent.

The only difference was that for the 2015-16 report, the average tuition tax credits of 26 per cent was added to the net tuition analysis.

During the meeting, Coleman questioned the use of tax credits in calculating net tuition. He said that these tax credits were non-refundable and had to either be deferred until students started working or be transferred to their parents.

In an interview with The Varsity, Coleman said that the inclusion of tax credits to the net tuition analysis was “because governors often ask about it.”

“For low-income students, this either means giving the tax credits to their parents or using after they graduate by deferring the credit,” he says. “In either case, the money is not going to be in their hand to pay tuition — so it’s misleading to say that tax credits make tuition more affordable.”

“Whether your parents make $50,000 a year or $250,000 a year, you both get the same tax credit,” he adds. “They do nothing to make it relatively easier for low-income students to attend university, and shouldn’t be considered part of ‘financial accessibility.’”

You notes that international students don’t receive the same access to grants or loans. “International students don’t even get the option of having a loan. So they can’t have subsidized education like domestic students,” she says, while acknowledging that domestic students also have a considerable financial burden to contend with.

Provincial support

These tuition fee increases come at a time when the university expects no net increase from operating grants given by the provincial government.

“With no net increase in revenue from per-student operating grants projected for 2015-2016… new tuition revenues are critically necessary to fund initiatives and enhancements across academic, student, and shared service divisions,” the tuition fee schedule said.

The operating budget for 2015-2016 was also presented to the Business Board. Just 30 per cent of the operating revenue comes from provincial operating grants — a decline from 50 per cent of revenue in  2000–2001.

It is projected that the proportion will drop to 25 per cent by 2019–2020.

This drop in proportion of revenue from the province has been accompanied by a rise in the proportion of revenue from student tuition and fees. In 2000–2001, student fees constituted 28.7 per cent of the university’s operating revenue. For the upcoming school year, student fees will account for 57.3 per cent of operating revenue, with the expectation that this proportion will increase to 62.9 per cent in 2019-2020.

Structural Challenges

The budget report also says that the university is facing a potential structural budget challenge.

The challenge would occur in the context of when the university has achieved its long-term goals in terms of enrollment and student population mix, and no longer relies on growth in enrollment numbers for increasing revenue.

In such a situation, it has been projected that the average increase in revenue would be 2.5 per cent while the average increase in expenditures would be four per cent, thus creating a structural deficit of 1.5 per cent.

During the meeting, U of T president Meric Gertler said that the university was “fortunate to be enjoying strong enrollment growth,” calling the increased international enrollment positive.

Gertler also acknowledged the structural deficit and the challenge it presented, adding that the budget challenge was “facing all post-secondary institutions” in Canada.

According to Professor Scott Mabury, U of T vice-president, university operations, the university is exploring increasing “non-student sources of revenue” to meet the structural deficit.