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International students question fee hikes at Canadian HEIs

Some Canadian higher education institutions are raising tuition fees by as much as 37% for international students as they seek to cover costs and invest further in support services.
August 18 2020
5 Min Read

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic, international fees at some institutions across Canada have increased by almost 40% for some courses, as HEIs seek to cover costs and invest further in support services.

As a result, student-led initiatives calling for tuition fees to be frozen or reduced for international students have been started – including the previously reported petition at Western University in Ontario.

While some institutions have not increased their fees in 2020, others insist increases are necessary to meet the true cost of educating students – which domestic tuition does not reflect – as well as to offer support initiatives and scholarship options.

“”The increase of tuition for international students is already unacceptable, especially during a world pandemic”

In Ontario, the University of Guelph‘s international student organisation has lobbied against fee increases for international students ranging from 5-10% for undergraduate courses to 3-37% for graduate programs.

The group has called on the institution to reverse the 2020/2021 increases immediately, to freeze tuition fees and provide more bursaries, grants and scholarships for international students.

“The increase of tuition for international students is already unacceptable, especially during a world pandemic,” Guelph student Giovanna Percel said when launching an online petition in May.

“Increasing tuition at this point would result in many students like myself having to quit their studies and goals, unable to afford academic and living costs.

“Considering that the majority of international students come from developing or undeveloped countries, many already face financial challenges as the economies of those countries are not strong or stable —imagine during a world pandemic,” she added.

The institution announced this month that it would introduce three new initiatives for the next academic year, including a one-time credit incentive of CAD$750 for all international students, and a needs-based assistance bursary of up to $1,250 per semester for international students struggle to afford their tuition.

International Undergraduate Entrance Scholarship awardees will also be eligible for an additional $4,000 in subsequent years if they continue to meet specific criteria.

“We will continue to re-evaluate the needs of these students during the pandemic and continue to find other ways to offer our support,” said Stuart McCook, assistant vice-president international at the institution.

Elsewhere, Lakehead University‘s student union has reported it is awaiting a response to similar concerns to Guelph students it raised about freezing or reduce tuition fees and increasing financial aid, in addition to extending tuition fee deadlines and creating more job opportunities on campus for international students.

“The main question is, if the classes are online, shouldn’t Lakehead be decreasing the fees instead of increasing?” one student complained.

More than 6,000 people have joined calls for the University of Toronto to freeze tuition fees for all undergraduate international students at its three campuses citing issues around economic downturn in their home countries, fluctuating currency valuations and the loss of part-time work for international students in Canada.

The institution has said it will continue to raise the cost of its tuition for international students, which has been increasing by around $2,000 per year for many courses; international students will see a 5.3% average increase in tuition for 2020/21, according to The Varsity.

“International fees are set at a level to more closely reflect the true cost of educating students, whereas revenue from grants and tuition fees for domestic students remains well below the true cost,” the University of Toronto has noted.

The institution’s international tuition fees are appropriate given its placing in international rankings, it said – its Arts & Science international undergraduate tuition and fees of $54,848 in 2019/20 was the highest among the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

The University of Toronto said it is committed to ensuring it will provide financial assistance to international students who may encounter financial emergencies, as well as providing scholarships to be “awarded on the basis of exceptional academic merit and financial need”.

Some student service fees – including Student Life and athletics & recreation costs – have been reduced the university noted.

A university spokesperson highlighted that international students are provided with “significant support” such as 14-day quarantine accommodations – meals, health checks and supports – at no extra cost to students returning to Canada.

Student also have access to immigration advisors to address concerns around student permits, travelling to Canada, and what to expect when they arrive.

Additionally, many institutions across Canada have introduced emergency bursaries and funding for students in need due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson from Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities told The PIE News each publicly-funded institution’s governance is responsible for its own operational policies and procedures, including setting fees for international students.

Students at Algonquin College have called for international fees to be reduced, pointing to what they see as online programs, which are less costly to run – tuition at the institution has not increased for fall 2020.

Algonquin said it had reduced international student tuition deposit from from $1500 to $1200 due to “employment constraints due to the pandemic”.

“Returning international students with specific pandemic hardships may be able to defer the tuition deposit – by contacting the International Education Centre,” an Algonquin spokesperson added.

In Québec, students at McGill University’s School of Continuing Studies will see tuition for graduate students rise by 35.3% while international undergraduate students will increase by 7.7%, students have warned, saying the increase was “substantial, sudden, unexplained, and inequitable”.

Other courses at McGill school’s tuition fees have increased by some $2,000 on last year’s costs. For example, its bachelor of commerce course price has risen from around $43,900 in 2019 to almost $45,700 in 2020.

The tuition for 2020 is an increase of around 29% on 2016 fees, when the course’s tuition stood at $40,802.70.

According to the university, increases are based in part on comparisons with other universities of similar size, mission, and calibre, and in part, on the annual increase in the cost of delivering high-quality programs.

McGill added it is committed to allocating 30% of the net revenue derived from tuition increases to student aid.

“If the classes are online, shouldn’t [the institution] be decreasing the fees instead of increasing?”

Additionally, McGill has introduced a Student Emergency Support Fund for students who cannot afford unforeseen expenses as a result of Covid-19, as well as expanding its Scholarships and Student Aid Office budget.

“Given these exceptional circumstances, we have extended a significant “line of credit” for immediate use for critical student cases to which members of the global McGill community have generously contributed in the short time since the fund was initiated,” a spokesperson told The PIE News.

However, Canadian institutions are not alone in raising their fees.

In the UK, statistics show that international postgrad fees were set to increase by an average of £1,000, while undergraduate course tuition saw incremental increases.

And in Australia, there has been an average of 5.3% international tuition increase in 2020, according to an analysis by Studymove.

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