STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Come September, domestic and international PhD students at U of T will pay equivalent tuition. This breaks from the status quo of international students paying much higher rates than domestic students.

At present, most international fees are $21,560 per year, in comparison to the domestic rate of $6,960 for a majority of programs.

Rose Liu, an international student and Masters of Pharmacology student, said she believes that the move was reasonable. “It doesn’t make sense for them to pay a whole lot extra.”

The announcement came on January 16. In a statement posted on U of T News, Joshua Barker, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost of Graduate Research and Education, said that the university “[strives] to remove any barriers, financial or otherwise, that graduate students might face as they look to attend our university.”

Barker later told The Varsity that the move was to make higher education more accessible to a larger pool of students. “We know that international students will always be looking carefully at the fees that they will be paying,” he said. “Reducing it to domestic level will improve our capacity to recruit the best of the best.”

The plan technically won’t kick in until after a student’s fourth year of study in their doctoral program. Currently, both international and domestic students are provided a funding package, comprised of grants and work opportunities, that does not require them to pay fees out of pocket for the first four years. Starting in their fifth year and any other time after that, students will have to pay fees.

“[Students will be affected] when they finish the funded portion of their degree, and we’re going to absorb the costs of that through our normal budget process,” said Barker with regard to the specific details of how the university will offset this financial change.

The announcement comes two weeks after the deadline for doctoral programs passed, and some international students are saying that the expensive fees factored into their decisions to not apply.

“We’re only able to make the announcement when the decision has been reached within the university, and we have agreement from the various faculties within the university,” said Barker.

Liu also noted how this might promote meritocracy. “If supervisors know that they don’t have to pay for international PhD students, they could probably decide to take a certain international student instead of compromising for domestic students.”

The tuition cut will not affect professional programs. The Doctor of Juridical Science, Doctor of Education, and Doctor of Music Arts will keep current international tuition rates due to their non-research orientation. According to Barker, there are no plans at present to reduce those fees. There are also no plans to equalize the tuition rates of domestic and international students at the undergraduate or master’s level.

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) expressed support for the announcement. Alexandra Sebben, Communications and Promotions Coordinator for the UTGSU, said that the “Executive Committee supports the reduction of tuition fees for all students, especially international students who are currently burdened by very high tuition costs.”

The UTGSU will also be meeting with Barker before the end of the month to discuss this issue in more detail.

The decision coincides with the university’s negotiations with CUPE Local 3902, Unit 1, a labour union that represents, in part, teaching assistants — many of whom are doctoral students.

Barker said that bargaining negotiations did not affect the tuition cut decision. “The desire to internationalize our graduate student body is something that we’ve been working on for some time now… It is a university priority that was articulated by the President a couple of years ago.”

CUPE 3902, Unit 1 responded positively to the news. Aleks Ivovic, Chief Spokesperson for the unit’s bargaining team, said that “support for international students is and always has been an important priority for us.”

“In terms of its effect on our international members,” said Ivovic, “we expect it will make a meaningful difference to PhD students who are in programs without funding.”

Editor’s note (January 22): This article has been updated to remove a quote from a student incorrectly suggesting that lowering tuition for international PhD students would allow for more research funding. 

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