International Student Fees: An Unregulated Inequity

 Photo: J Aaron farr

Photo: J Aaron farr

A Canadian university degree holds great value internationally. So, many foreign students choose to pursue their post-secondary education here. However, international students face large financial burdens when they choose to study in Canada. Tuition fees are approximately 4.5 times higher for international students than their domestic counterparts. Along with this, opportunities for on-campus employment, internships, and scholarships are extremely limited for international students.

Tuition fees for domestic students are regulated by the provincial government. The Ontario government has a set framework for how much their tuition may increase each year. For international student fees, there is no regulation in place— the rates are established by universities, leaving plenty of space for financial exploitation. In the past, international students paid the same tuition as domestic students, but in 1976 the federal government suggested introducing different fees to generate an additional source of revenue to the provinces. At York, the average yearly fee for domestic undergraduate students is $7,100. In stark contrast, the average international student fee is $21,400.

Although there is a clear inconsistency between the financial treatment of domestic and international students, some would say it makes sense. International students have not been in Canada for as long as domestic students and have not paid the same amount of tax dollars. Arguably, they have not contributed as significantly to Canadian society as domestic students.

On the other hand, international students contribute nearly $8 billion annually to the federal economy. Furthermore, approximately 51% of international students plan on applying for permanent residency in Canada after their studies. When accepting international students as permanent residents after their studies, Canada would be taking in a group of immigrants that have already partially, if not mostly, integrated into Canadian society. There is no remaining language barrier between these students and society, and their university degrees are valid, unlike other immigrants who hold degrees that are respected in their home countries but not in Canada.

During the latest strike at York University in 2015, tuition fees for Master’s and PhD students were also being negotiated. The deal froze tuition rates for Master’s and PhD students and reimbursed international students for the $7,000 drastic tuition increase they had paid during the previous year. Even though this was considered a somewhat successful deal for international students, it obviously only applied to those above the undergraduate level.

Tackling this inequity in our education system will not be simple. Domestic fees in Ontario are limited to a 3 to 5 percent increase annually, but due to the lack of regulation, the year-to-year increase for international fees could increase even more. Their limited time in the country further compounds this issue as it weakens the political voice of international students in Canada. This is particularly evident as there is currently no initiative by the province to equalize payments and opportunities between international and domestic students. In order for us to see this issue move forward, the province needs to recognize the value of international students and take action to regulate their fees.