International PhDs to pay tuition equivalent to domestic students

Graduate students respond to changes in academic rates

International PhDs to pay tuition equivalent to domestic students

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. 

Resisting Education event reflects on diverse barriers in postsecondary institutions

Panel discusses tuition fees, Indigeneity, racism, part-time students

Resisting Education event reflects on diverse barriers in postsecondary institutions

Resisting Education: Stories of Defiance and Perseverance — an event held by the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) — took place in UTSG’s Claude T. Bissell Building on November 30 to discuss issues faced by students in postsecondary institutions across Ontario.

The event featured a panel of guests that included Nour Alideeb, former University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President and current Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS-O); Francis Pineda, President of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR); Michelle Mabira, 2016–2017 President of U of T’s African Students’ Association; and Phyllis McKenna, Vice-President Equity and Campaigns of CESAR. Moderating the event was Mala Kashyap, President of APUS.

A range of issues concerning postsecondary students were raised by the panelists. Alideeb started the discussion by saying that access to postsecondary education is a “right, not privilege.” Citing the funding structure for public postsecondary institutions, particularly U of T, Alideeb said the university has become a “publicly assisted institution” instead of “publicly funded,” with some of the highest tuition costs in Canada as well as steep costs for international students.

“Is our degree that great just because we slap on ‘U of T’?” asked Alideeb. She also pointed out solutions from her work at the CFS-O, in particular her lobbying for the Ontario Student Grant, as a starting point for reducing student fees and eliminating provincial interest on student loans.

McKenna focused on Indigeneity and the issues Indigenous students face when it comes to access to education. As an Indigenous woman, McKenna criticized the low graduation rates for Indigenous students in postsecondary institutions, as well as limitations on funding for bursaries and grants due to inadequate government funding.

Mabira relayed a perception of apathy on the part of the university administration toward marginalized students. Describing the process of reporting racism to university administrators as a “lottery,” Mabira attributed deep-rooted racism within the university to a “culture of persecuting people who can challenge the way the system is built and run.” She alluded to recent reports of anti-Black racism on campus as the product of a culture of racism and ignorance.

A part-time student at Ryerson University, Pineda discussed the importance of improving access to postsecondary education, as well as keeping in mind the struggles that part-time students face at these institutions. Accessing bursaries and grants is difficult for part-time students, especially those who may incur debt over an extended period during school, said Pineda. He described in detail his own experiences as a part-time student dealing with debt and the long period of time it took for him to earn his degree.

In response to a question about solutions to the particular issues raised by the panel, McKenna conveyed a hope for diversifying approaches to education and changes to “the idea that Western worldviews are not the epitome of education.”

Alideeb, speaking from her experience with the UTMSU, said that discussion and trust are the basis for change. “If we don’t have the mechanisms to talk to each other about the things that we have problems with, we cannot find solutions to them and move forward.”

When asked about the practicality of solving issues that were raised by her fellow panelists, Alideeb responded with optimism about future conversations, specifically mentioning her past success with the ‘Fight the Fees’ campaign and the Ontario Student Grant. She emphasized the importance of the University of Toronto Students’ Union collaborating with student groups to work on tackling issues. “We need to be working with people to understand the issues — that way we can tackle them.”

A budgetary balancing act

Ontario makes strides toward accessible post-secondary education, but glaring omissions call its long-term efficacy into question

A budgetary balancing act

ON February 25, the 2016 Ontario budget was released; one of its priorities focused on satiating the insistent requests from student groups -— free tuition for students from low-income backgrounds. But when the government offers you a free lunch, it pays to be skeptical.

While this budget takes steps toward more equitable financing for post-secondary education in Ontario, our province still has a long way to go before university education is equally accessible.

Not free for everyone

The budget provides most college and university students whose family income is less than $50,000 a year with enough grant funding to cover their entire tuition. The government stipulates that no student will receive less funding under the new plan than they would have received from the pre-existing 30% Off Tuition Grant.

This commitment certainly signals progress; however, it is not free, and it does not provide enough funding to cover degrees with higher-than-average costs.

The government estimates average undergraduate university tuition costs $6,160, while Statistics Canada averages it at around $7,868. As a result, there is a $1,700 shortfall.

This is because the government calculated average cost of tuition based solely on arts and science degrees, which doesn’t fully account for more expensive degrees, such as those in commerce, engineering, or computer science. This appears to be poor planning on the part of the government, as careers that stem from some of the more technical degrees flow into some of the least saturated job sectors in Ontario.

The plan will come at “roughly no cost” to the government, meaning that the funds used to offer finance tuition represent no increase to public funding invested in higher education but merely a redistribution of existing resources.

Streamlined funding

The Ontario Student Grant (OSG) will consolidate all other grant programs currently operating under Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), while tuition and education tax credits will be discontinued and reallocated to pay for the OSG. This is predicated on the assumption that “[g]rants are more effective than tax credits at targeting financial support to students with the greatest needs and providing support upfront,” which seems to reign true.

A deeper look into the student assistance system, however, reveals troubling possibilities for some students that are not addressed within the new structure. Co-op students and students who work are likely going to pay tax on income that was not previously taxable. While this will not restrict all students that fall into this category, it is worth noting that some students with higher incomes seek them out because they do not qualify for other forms of government support.

Financial need will continue to be largely based on family income under the new system. While we can be fairly confident that students coming from low-income families are in need of assistance, it is less clear that all students from high income families do not need assistance.

To the government’s credit, some attempt has been made in the budget to rectify this problem. Parental and spousal income will be less of a determining factor when assessing students’ financial need than it has in the past. Grants will also be available to mature students as eligibility will no longer be tied to the number of years a student has been out of high school.

For some students who, despite these provisions, rely on income other than government grants and loans to fund their education, this budget is not expected to deliver much relief. Students should view this as an omission on the part of the government and should lament the fact that students whose need is not easily quantifiable are likely to be left behind.

Student debt goes unaddressed

There is no mention in the budget of debt forgiveness, something that student groups such as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance have been calling for for a long time. Student debt in Canada is high; grads are routinely saddled with more than $20,000 to pay back as they enter the workforce. There is a six-month grace period after graduation during which students do not have to make payments, a provision that will be carried over in this budget.

It is worth noting that, while the government must start somewhere to increase the accessibility of post-secondary education, this plan creates a sizeable disparity in terms of incurred debt between low-income students entering post-secondary education in 2017 and those graduating in the same year. The class starting university in 2017 will be better supported than it otherwise would have been, but nothing has been done to address the mass of university graduates who are currently under-employed and struggling to pay off debt.

Tuition increases

The proposed reforms of student assistance will come into effect at the same time that the government’s existing Tuition Fee Framework expires — the current system restricts institutions from increasing domestic undergraduate tuition fees by more than three per cent per year. There is no commitment in the budget to renew this cap, nor has the government committed to extending the cap beyond 2017.

Last week, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi stated that the OSG would be tied to inflation and tuition increases. The fact that this is not written in the budget, however, is deeply concerning. If there is no policy or mechanism to adjust the grant in keeping with changing tuition, then the grants will become less effective each successive year.

These tuition fee caps matter to U of T students. In the 2016–2017 fee schedule released February 11, domestic tuition fees are set to rise by the maximum amount yet again. If the government is to commit to the goals they have outlined in this budget, they must not congratulate themselves too quickly. The effectiveness of their plan is contingent upon many other policies, chiefly tuition regulation.

The Ontario government’s overhaul of the existing student assistance programs, while not free, makes significant improvements to equitable access to university education in this province — changes that in many ways are well worth their price tag. The priorities now become ensuring that changes like these reach the students who need assistance most and maintaing an effective system in the face of a changing funding landscape. 

Tuition fees continue to rise

U of T releases fee increase schedule for 2016–2017

Tuition fees continue to rise

The University of Toronto’s tuition fees are set to rise again. Following the release of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework report, U of T has announced an increase in tuition fees for the 2016–2017 academic year.

The increases amount to an average of three per cent for domestic programs.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework for 2013–2017 reduced a previous five per cent overall cap on tuition fee increases to an overall three per cent cap, which resulted in smaller tuition increases in comparison to the years between 2006–2013. 

An overall three per cent cap means that individual tuition fees may be more or less than three per cent, so long as the university’s total tuition increases averages out to three per cent. These tuition increase restrictions do not apply to international student tuition fees. U of T is able to raise international student tuition without having those increases factor into a calculation of overall tuition increases.

The 2016–2017 tuition fee schedule for international students entering any of U of T’s three campuses will see a nine per cent rise for arts and science programs and an eight per cent rise for applied science and engineering programs. 

Most international students will experience tuition fee increases of five per cent.

Overall, the average increase for international students will be at 5.9 per cent, which is close to the five per cent increase for domestic students’ professional programs.

For a comparative example, the 2016–2017 planned increase for the undergraduate dentistry program is $1,780 for domestic students and $3,440 for international students; both figures represent a five per cent increase for their respective tuition fee rates.

Students skeptical after Ontario budget promises “free tuition”

Average tuition does not include professional, international, part-time, or graduate students

Students skeptical after Ontario budget promises “free tuition”

The recently proposed 2016 Ontario budget promises free average tuition for students whose household income is below $50,000.

Under the proposed framework, approximately 50 per cent of students whose family income is $83,000 or less will be eligible for grants in excess of average tuition. Currently, the government supports students’ educational costs through OSAP loans, tax credits, as well as through various grants. As of 2017, these existing funding structures will be amalgamated into a single grant: the Ontario Student Grant (OSG).

“For Ontario to thrive in the knowledge-based economy, the government needs to ensure all members of society are given the opportunities, as well as the tools, they need to succeed,” reads part of the report.

“Last Thursday… was the best day of my life as a politician,” said Reza Moridi, the minister of training, colleges and universities. Moridi described the new idea as a milestone and considers free tuition to be the budget’s centerpiece.

When asked about the issue of increased enrolment in the future, Moridi cited another significant part of the budget: the establishment of new university campuses, such as York University Seneca in Markham, and a new proposal for a campus in either the Halton or Peel region.

The budget ties in with the Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs), a move towards post-secondary differentiation. In the summer of 2014, U of T agreed to identify its primary strengths in order to channel funding into areas where the university appeared to be most successful.

Under the SMAs there was criticism that nothing was being done to make university education more affordable. There was fear that specializing funding to some programs would leave other “niche programs” vulnerable while larger programs received even more funding.

The students united

Jasmine Denike, vice president, external of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) said that the union is dedicated to fighting for accessible and affordable education. “I’m thrilled to hear the words ‘free tuition’ come out of the mouths of many politicians, and we see this as a fantastic first step towards accessible education for all students,” Denike said.

However, Denike said that the UTSU is disappointed that the budget only addresses the ‘average tuition’ of $6,160 without taking into account the fees paid by students in professional programs, part-time students, graduate students, and international students. “There are domestic Professional Faculty students who are paying over $15,000 a year, and international students are still paying unbelievably high costs of over $35,000, not including other living expenses,” Denike said.

In response to  the criticism of the new budget, Moridi asked “what is wrong with giving every single individual young person access to education?”  He said that the current goal is to ensure everyone has equal access to undergraduate education.

Moridi believes that education is “the best investment” and that everyone should welcome the proposal. Moridi said that he thinks the right decision has been made and that the new budget removes barriers and opens the doors to education to every single person seeking post-secondary education in Ontario.

“Free” tuition

The figure that the budget uses for average tuition is $6,160. However, according to Statistics Canada, the average tuition for undergraduates in Canada is currently $7,868. Not only is there a $1,700 gap, it also does not include the increase expected in tuition in 2017.

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) welcomes the announcement by the Ontario government, though he disagrees with the government’s use of the word “free.”

“Many questions remain about whether or not this will cover students whose fees are deregulated and higher, Computer Science students for example.  There is still a lot to improve on and we have to start talking about direct funding of institutions and the rising cost of tuition fees instead of just tackling financial aid,” Shihipar said.

Shihipar also expressed concern that the grant may not work, should the three per cent cap on yearly tuition increases expire in 2017 and tuition fees cease to be regulated. He noted that the grant is a positive step  for Ontario and said that the concept of free tuition as a viable structure is welcome.

Shihipar calls upon students to “pressure the government to go further to making our post secondary education system truly accessible and free for all.”

Beyond free education

The Ontario Student Grant requires further analysis

Beyond free education

THE much-maligned Liberal government at Queen’s Park has been in desperate need of some good press; last week, they got it. As part of the 2016 budget, they revealed a program offering free tuition to students whose parents make less than $50,000 a year. While the announcement set social media alight and has generally been well received, it is important to recognize the plan as a reallocation of resources, rather than a revolutionary investment in post-secondary education.

The new Ontario Student Grant (OSG) simplifies the existing student assistance program through synthesis. Grants and loans have already been available to low-income students through programs like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant, which is available to students whose parents make less than $160,000. The new grant is designed to redirect the funding from the Ontario Tuition Grant, the Ontario Student Opportunity Grant, the Ontario Access Grants, and other grants offered by OSAP into one streamlined program. As such, the OSG is not a new program per se, but rather a cobbling together of pre-existing programs.

Although people are generally wary of the word free, the new grant will be cost-neutral for the government through the elimination of tax breaks. The $365 million handed out through the Tuition and Education Tax Credits will be eliminated in order to pay for the increased support for low-income families.

Now, in the proper context, the public reaction to the policy seems to dramatically outweigh the actual changes that have occurred.

In terms of the costs and benefits, any student in arts and science programs whose parents make less than $160,000 will welcome the changes. Those below the $50,000 mark will receive an amount greater than the average undergraduate tuition fee; those in the $50,000 to $83,000 bracket will receive at least an amount equal to average tuition; and those between $83,000 and $160,000 will receive a similar amount to the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant. For those not in arts and science, the previously existing Student Access Guarantee will cover the additional costs incurred by these more expensive programs.

The key benefit is that students no longer have to take out loans to receive the grants. Instead of receiving tax breaks in April and having to wait for government assistance while paying up front costs, students will have a tuition bill of zero from the start. This is important, as it does a better job of encouraging lower income families to actually apply for OSAP. 

Much of the criticism of this new grant stems from the fact that it does not increase government spending in any way, and their thrifty approach to ‘free’ tuition is not as helpful as it could be. Some are critical that upper-middle class families will lose a tax break, while others point out that their average tuition fee figure of $6,160 is not actually accurate. Also, the additions of ancillary fees and living expenses are important to note, as they can amount to several thousand dollars more in expenses for a student.

As it stands, the new grant program will help families coming from the lowest income brackets, but families of the highest income brackets will have to continue to apply for the already existing loans through OSAP. Any further governmental support would require a substantial investment from a government trying to cut, rather than increase, their large deficit.

All this means is that this program functions mostly as an excellent publicity stunt for a struggling government. The perceived value of the OSG far outweighs the actual value. It does offer slight improvements in streamlining the process and providing money before having to pay tuition, but it also mainly just takes from the middle class and gives to the poor. A noble pursuit in any case, but not quite revolutionary.

Alex Hempel is a third-year student at Trinity College studying economics and European studies.

Ontario students call for freeze on tuition

Provincewide, groups lobby for new tuition framework, increased accessibility

Ontario students call for freeze on tuition

As tuition fees in Ontario continue to rise above the national average, student groups across the province are calling for post-secondary education a funding reform.

On January 11, the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance (OUSA) launched a week-long campaign with its eight affiliated universities called TimeOut Tuition.

The OUSA proposed that the next tuition framework set by the provincial government should increase their investments in universities and reallocate the $340 million currently used for tuition, textbook, and education tax credits. Under the current funding model, which is set to expire in 2017, there are tuition increases of three to five per cent.

“What we wanted to see was a redistribution of these funds to more effective means of financial assistance both through forms of a tuition freeze[…] and also through an expansion of things like OSAP and the Ontario Tuition Grant,” said OUSA president Spencer Nestico-Semianiw.

The OUSA is also concerned that Ontario has since become a publicly-assisted, rather than publicly-funded education system, despite Ontario having increased its operating grants by $2.2 billion since 2002–2003. Grants to colleges and universities are also projected to increase by $46 million in 2015-2016.

“The descriptors of ‘publicly-assisted’ and ‘publicly-funded’ are interchangeable. The Ontario government provides public funding to all public universities and colleges,” said Tanya Blazina, spokesperson for the ministry.

The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-O), of which the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is a member, ran a campaign called The Hikes Stop Here in 2013. That campaign also called on the government to rescind the current tuition framework.

“It is really encouraging to see other students in the province joining this call for more affordable education and we’re excited that folks are calling for a freeze in tuition fees. We hope to continue to further that call,” said Rajean Hoilett, CFS-O chairperson.

According to recent polling by the CFS and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, 90 per cent of Ontarians believe that tuition fees should be reduced or frozen. Polling also revealed that over 60 per cent of students are forced to cut back on food costs, and almost half of full-time students work during the school year.

Hoilett said that the CFS will continue to call for affordable and accessible education with an upcoming Fight the Fees campaign, which is intended to pressure the government to replace student loans with grants, reduce tuition fees, and centre access to education among marginalized populations.

“Our government looks forward to working closely with student leaders and our post-secondary institutions to develop a renewed tuition framework that continues to limit tuition fees and keeps post-secondary education accessible for all students,” said Blazina.