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International Student Tuition Rises To Unseen Levels

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Written by Scott Gilbert

By now most of us have heard that tuition fees will be going up when we return in September. For myself, this would amount to an increase of about $200 per year and is enough to make me upset. However when I saw the press release on the University of Guelph website that was posted on March 24th that showed the rates for international students, I couldn't believe my eyes. Other Ontarion articles will provide all the details and analysis for the tuition framework overall, so I will focus this article on the situation facing international students.

Last year, when domestic student tuition fees were frozen, the university increased international fees by 4%, which alone caused a massive backlash from the students, workers and others in the university community. This year the proposed hike is more than ten times as much. We must recognize that 4% for international students is generally about twice as much in real dollar value than for domestic students because their fees are already so high.

The University is proposing an increase of $2,000 per semester for regular programs and $2,500 per semester for professional programs for incoming international students. Even though the tuition fees for currently enrolled international students will remain the same, this means an entering undergraduate international student in my program would pay $7500 more for a three semester year than they would have the year before – an increase roughly equal to half of my total undergraduate tuition!

It should be noted that these numbers do not even take into account the increases that every international student will pay this year for UHIP (the health insurance international students have to pay, which is similar to OHIP). For this, an international student with 2 or more dependents will have to pay an additional fee increase of approximately $1000.

These increases will directly impact the accessibility of post-secondary education. Numerous polls have demonstrated that cost is the primary barrier between students and a university education. Increasing fees does nothing but push the bar higher and make post-secondary education increasing limited to students from wealthy backgrounds. In my discussions with students, I have frequently heard the argument that increasing fees will improve the quality of our education. This could not be farther from the truth.

A simple comparison of universities across the country and across North America shows that this concept is a farce. For instance, McGill University is a highly acclaimed institution (arguably much more than Guelph), yet their tuition fees are roughly half of what we pay here. Also, tuition fee increases for domestic students here in Guelph will not be equal. Specialized programs like engineering will see an increase of 8% for new domestic students, while regular programs like arts will see a 4.5% increase. But a student in engineering will not see a proportional increase in the quality of their education, and neither will the incoming international student. While the CSA is opposed to any increase in tuition fees, an improvement in your education directly proportional to the fees you pay would at least make such an increase more logical. All the extra revenue generated from tuition fee increases will go into the general university operating budget, and not necessarily to the program or department that the student paying the money is in. Moreover, international students will now be paying approximately 3 times what their domestic counterparts pay for the same "quality" of education (both international and domestic students take the exact same classes, in the same buildings, with the exact same instructors).

Even more important that debunking these misconceptions about what exactly fee increases mean for students, we have to recognize the significant barriers that international student face compared to domestic students. One such barrier includes increased travel costs. Imagine if you wanted to go home and see your parents over reading week, but had to pay for a return flight out of the country – in some cases half way around the world. Not only are international students not eligible for many of the same government bursaries that domestic students are for things like childcare, but they are also not allowed to work off campus.

However there are numerous systematic barriers that international students face, and these increases serve little more than to further entrench the marginalization of these people within our society. Upon arrival to Canada, many of these students face social, cultural and institutional barriers that are uncommon for the majority of students on our campus. This limits their ability to speak out vocally and express their opposition to such unjust practices. As such, the proposed budget - regardless of intent - leverages the position of international students as a community that is predominately comprised of people of colour and non-citizens as means for differential treatment. Thus, I believe that such a proposal engages the issues of equity and fairness on a very fundamental level.

When the Ontario provincial budget was release at the beginning of the recent summer, statements of praise from our university could be found all over the web. However when we combine the implications of last year's U of G budget with the events of this year, we see that the quality of education on this campus has been significantly decreased. We have had 8% cuts to all department over the last 2 years, and will experience an additional 10% cut over the next 5 years. This means layoffs, larger class sizes, less labs and more deferred maintenance. How can we praise this? This year the university is facing a projected $8.7 million budget shortfall, which is understandably a huge sum of money to cover. However, the previous two budgets were also pegged at comparable levels of shortfall. While it is true that universities are experiencing rising energy costs and suffering from government under-funding, we must look at funding allocations.

To close, it is important to point out that the proposed tuition fee increases are not mandatory, and not yet set in stone. They are proposals that were recently made by university administrators as components of their proposed budget for the upcoming academic year. These proposals will be voted on at the final Board of Governors meeting for the year, which will happen on April 20th. Not surprisingly, this meeting was scheduled near the end of the final exam period, when students are the most constrained for time. The majority of students will have left Guelph at this point, be in the midst of moving, or be cramming hard for their last exam. It is hard to imagine that this was not done intentionally to avoid a strong student presence at the most important meeting of the year. The CSA is calling on students to attend this meeting and to come by the CSA office in room 274 of the UC beforehand to discuss the issues and assist us in planning presentations and demonstrations for this crucial meeting.
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