The University of Guelph has significantly raised its tuition for international students — a move critics say could force some to quit and leave Canada.
International students say the fee hike is particularly unfair in the middle of a pandemic, when university courses are being delivered online with no end in sight, and while students and their families are struggling financially as a result of the economic slowdown.
“It seems inhumane to use international students as cash cows and drastically increase the fees in the middle of the pandemic to balance budget and make up for gaps in government funding,” says Horeen Hassan, of the Central Student Association, which advocates for all undergraduate students at the University of Guelph.
“Many of these students have shared their personal stories with me and have indicated their thoughts on potentially dropping out or transferring to other institutions.”
The university has 1,630 international students in both its graduate and undergraduate programs.
As of May 1, international students in general arts and sciences, computing, engineering and landscape-architecture undergraduate programs all face a 10 per cent fee hike, with new yearly tuition rates ranging between $26,730 and $36,906. Those in business programs are being handed a 15 per cent fee increase and will see their annual tuition fee reach $31,706 — all while the domestic tuition is frozen.
International students at Guelph’s graduate programs are not immune from the increase, with those in the master of landscape architecture slapped with a 37 per cent raise, followed by those in food safety and quality assurance, at 26 per cent.
The university said it understands the increases may represent a hardship for some continuing and returning international students.
“In terms of our international tuition rates, U of G’s remain among the most affordable in Ontario. We are far below the sector average. Even with the increase, our international tuition rates are 70 to 75 per cent of those of our peer institutions,” spokesperson Lori Bona Hunt told the Star in an email.
“Our percentage increases for international student tuition are similar to the percentage increases for international student tuition adopted this year by our peer institutions.”
Hunt said the administration has taken measures to assist students in need, including bolstering its bursaries for international students for the spring semester, a step that will continue into the fall semester and beyond. Both the numbers and amounts of international student scholarships have also been increased, she added.
The province caps annual domestic tuition increases, but international student tuition is unregulated and schools can raise the fees at their own discretion.
Still, the move is being met with criticism from those affected.
Lisa Kazuhara, co-president of the International Students Organization at Guelph University, says many international students have struggled to pay rents and groceries. The group accounts for two-thirds of the users of the food bank on campus, she said.
“We are often stressed, worried about our families and wonder if we will even be able to enrol in the following semester,” said the 21-year-old Japanese student, who will start her last year in nutritional and nutraceutical sciences in September. “It’s frustrating.”
“My lab classes were cut short … having campus closed and many services only limitedly available online is tough,” Kazuhara added.
“I do not think that I have been receiving the learning experience I have signed up and paid for.”
International students said they were blindsided by the university’s decision and hope the board of governors will reverse the tuition increase.
“I can understand the university increasing tuition gradually due to certain cuts. However, this is a pretty harsh increase and it is only targeted towards international students,” said Eugene Cha, who just finished his first year of the ecology program in May.
“That part and the fact that they decided to hike it during a pandemic made me pretty mad.”
The 19-year-old said many families suffer financially due to the pandemic and this will cause extra hardship. His father, a commercial pilot, has already taken a hit on his income, he said.
“The upcoming fall semester is said to be a hybrid class with most classes being online. Having to pay higher tuition for online classes seems very unfair,” said Cha, whose family paid $24,300 in tuition for his fall and winter semesters.
Anna Canella, also a co-president of the international student body, said many international students can’t find summer jobs and are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, a federal financial assistance program.
While domestic students can take a break and make some money before returning to school, international students cannot work unless they are enrolled full time, due to student visa restrictions, said the 23-year-old from Brazil, who just finished her bachelor of science degree and has applied for Guelph’s graduate school.
“There is a false perception that all international students are wealthy. As a matter of fact, the majority of us rely on more than one part-time job to support themselves financially,” said Canella, who worked two part-time jobs to help pay for school.
“The reality is that without a prospective job for the summer, with the global economy compromised, us students and our families are more than ever struggling to finance our education. An increase in tuition makes international students face the hard decision to potentially not return in the fall.”
Not all universities are raising their fees.
University of Toronto, for instance, has reduced non-tuition incidental fees that go to student services and recreation programs for the summer session and will consider similar reductions for the fall.