In an interview with The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler explained comments he recently made in a BBC News interview, in which he said that increasing international tuition led to an increase in demand from international students, saying that the university also takes other factors such as funding and peer institutions into account.
In the BBC interview, Gertler said that because of a higher education market driven by status, people seemed to have a “hard time reconciling” U of T as an inexpensive postsecondary institution and yet a top-30 university.
“When we increased price, we found demand went up — as did the quality of the applications,” Gertler said to BBC.
Speaking to The Varsity shortly after the BBC interview, Gertler said that the university took other factors into consideration when setting tuition fees for international students, especially given the fact that neither the federal nor provincial government provide postsecondary institutions with funding for non-domestic students. The university thus has to cover the “full costs associated with educating those students.”
When asked if U of T increased its fees in part as a way to attract more students from abroad, Gertler said that this was not the case.
“While many of our international students do not require financial assistance, a significant number of them do,” he said. “We have been able to — through the international tuition revenues that we have brought in — fund some international student scholarships.”
The president also mentioned that U of T looks “at what our peer institutions are doing,” in terms of setting fee levels, including in public university systems in places like California, Washington, and Michigan. “We obviously want to be in the similar bands to them,” he said. “We don’t want to be higher and we also don’t want to be lower.”
Gertler said that another factor is the cost of “various services that ensure that [international students] are prepared for a successful experience while they are students here. So there’s special counselling, Centre for International Experience, and things like that that are relevant.”
Tuition fee increases are set differently for domestic and international students. Under provincial regulations, domestic fees cannot be increased past a certain ceiling every year. International fees are unregulated, meaning the university can increase them at a higher rate than for domestic students. Fee increases are proposed by senior administration officials and approved by Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body.
As for the rising number of international students at U of T, Gertler explained that this was due to the university’s active drive to recruit overseas.
“We compared our international enrolment to other peer institutions and found that we were actually lower than a lot of our peers,” he said. “While it’s true that Toronto is a very global city, we found that the university wasn’t quite as globalized as the city itself,” Gertler added, noting that students benefit from having more international students in the classroom.
Around 16.2 per cent of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus students and roughly 14 per cent of the University of Michigan’s students were international.
According to U of T’s 2017–2018 numbers, around 21.3 per cent of students were international.
International fees background
If it seems like international student fees are ever-increasing, you’re not wrong. An undergraduate student entering the University of Toronto in 2019 will pay as much as $59,230 in tuition fees, or roughly four per cent more than someone just the previous year. A student entering U of T in 2015 paid as much as $43,540, or 36 per cent less than in 2019.
According to Statistics Canada, it’s part of a general trend across the country. Data collected by the federal agency shows that the average tuition for an international student rose 6.3 per cent for the 2018–2019 academic year, not including incidental fees and other day-to-day expenses.