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Opinion: The delayed exam schedule causes financial harm to students

Administration is to blame for impact on international and out-of-province students
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XIN YI LIM/THE VARSITY
XIN YI LIM/THE VARSITY

While U of T’s late exam schedule release — relative to other Ontario universities — makes it difficult for all students to plan their summers, international and out-of-province students suffer an additional financial burden. Many students from the GTA can pay for a GO train home, or ask their parents to drive to Toronto and pick them up, but others from out of town need to book flights and end up paying much more than they should due to this late release date. I should know, because I am one of these students.

Most schools in Canada organize exams the same way: there is a large portion of a month set aside for exams, and a student may sit their exams at any point during this period, depending on their courses. For students in Canada, employers probably understand this and work with their schedules. However, some students go home to countries where employers aren’t familiar with this system. It may be confusing to these employers that a student is not sure when they can start work because they are not sure when they finish school.

If the university is going to use a system that forces students to plan their summers around a series of exam dates, it should release these dates in a timely and efficient manner. As it is, the system exacerbates the difficulty of finding a job from abroad by not equipping students with information they will need to give their employers.

This disorganization on the part of the schedule planners is frustrating because of the extensive time frame they have in which to create the schedule. One could argue that they have a considerable amount of time to plan about a month of exams. Of course, this is a difficult process and there will be organizational conflicts, but the confusion that the current system invokes causes unnecessary financial stress for students who need to find a flight home.

Why should students, who pay fees that support the university staff making the schedule, have to pay more because that same staff does not release the schedule in a timely manner?

When I looked at prices in October of last semester for my December flight home to Atlanta, Georgia, they were far less than $1,000. When the exam schedule came out in early November, about a month before the start of the exam period, the flights were above $1,000. I ended up paying about $300 more than the price I first looked at. This was just a two-hour flight to Atlanta; I imagine the price difference on a flight to Hong Kong or Bangladesh would be considerably more.

While December is always an expensive time to fly due to the holidays, there is no debate that the earlier a flight is booked, the better. For students who already have extremely high international student fees, saving hundreds of dollars on flights by being able to book a few more weeks in advance would be greatly appreciated.

U of T has an international student population of almost 21 per cent — many of these students will be flying home at the end of the school year. Knowing this, staff still do not release the schedule much earlier than most other Ontario universities, who have significantly smaller international student populations.

McGill University has a comparable international student population that even exceeds U of T’s, at over 27 per cent. McGill’s exam schedule for April 2020 was released nearly eight and a half weeks prior to McGill’s exam period. U of T released its schedule just over five weeks in advance. Both universities are large institutions with sizable international student populations, yet McGill manages to not place the burden of a late release schedule, and the financial concerns that come with that, on its students.

U of T boasts its diversity and inclusivity, and in many ways does well at providing resources for international students, as well as creating a place for them to connect with people from their countries and meet new friends. However, the administration’s faulty organization around the release of the exam schedule is one such instance where it falls short.

If McGill — and global institutions to which U of T consistently compares itself — can provide this much-needed information in a timely manner, why should U of T students who need to fly home in April be stuck booking last-minute flights? All international students who fly home expect to pay a certain amount for flights, but leaving bookings to as late as a month in advance may make the cost notably higher. Students and faculty should not have to expect, or accept, this reality.

Keely Bastow is a third-year Political Science student at Trinity College.