International post-secondary students call for lower tuition fees as classes move online due to the pandemic

What’s the cost of a Canadian education without access to Canada? Faiza Amin reports on growing calls from international students for lower tuition fees and finds out how post-secondary schools in the GTA are doing with enrollment amid the pandemic.

By Faiza Amin, Mahnoor Yawar and Quintin Bignell

What does a Canadian education cost without access to Canada? That’s the question many international students are contemplating during this pandemic. CityNews has heard from students enrolled at post-secondary schools in the Great Toronto Area (GTA) who are studying across time zones and calling for lower tuition fees.

It’s a 4 a.m. wake-up call some days for third-year student Kyle Jiang Yi, who logs on remotely to his University of Toronto classes all the way from China. Yi is currently paying $56,000 a year for six classes a semester to maintain his status in Canada.

“I understand I have to pay $56,000, because my parents don’t pay any tax in Canada, or I don’t give any contributions to Canada,” Yi said. “But I think it’s not fair for me at this moment because everything is in remote mode and everything has changed.”

Some international students have opted to stay in their home countries and attend Canadian schools remotely. CityNews reached out to six GTA schools last week, asking if they’ve seen a change in international enrolment this year compared to the 2019 semester.

York University is seeing a six per cent increase this fall when compared to last year. Enrolment numbers are also up at Ryerson University, though the school has not said by how much.

Centennial College is reporting a 23 per cent decline of students, and a decrease of $48.7 million in international tuition revenue this year.

George Brown is expecting a 15-20 per cent decline in enrolment going into 2021.

The University of Toronto says they don’t have these figures yet, while Humber College did not provide a response to the media requests.

Luise Hellwig, a third-year University of Toronto student, has opted to cut her classes in half for a number of reasons. For one, she wants to save on costs, but remote learning also comes with challenges.

“I am struggling a little bit with online learning. It’s harder for me to retain the information, it takes longer for me to get through lectures, to take notes and everything just because of the way of instruction,” said Hellwig, who is logging on to classes from Germany.

A full-time schedule comes with a price-tag of $60,000 for Hellwig, but a reduced course load costs her $20,000 less.

Over the last five years in Ontario international student fees have gone up by an average of eight per cent per year for undergraduates. Fees have risen by four per cent for graduate students. By contrast, domestic tuition has dropped or stagnated in recent years.

The University of Toronto says it has not made any changes to planned tuitions levels, saying the increases were set and planned prior to COVID-19.

Yi said his fees were increased. “Last year, my tuition was $54,000 this year it’s $56,000 so it’s $2,000 extra,” he said.

Some universities and colleges report a decline in revenues

International students at some of these schools make up a bigger percentage of the student body, and some schools are reporting a decline in enrolment as well as with revenue losses totalling millions of dollars this year.

George Brown, for instance, gets 40 per cent of their tuition revenues from international students. The school collected $43 million during the 2019 fall semester.

According to data from the federal government, there were 721,000 international students in 2018 who spent over $21 billion on school.

Roopa Desai Trilokekar, an associate professor with York University, says Canada benefits by attracting what she calls “ideal immigrants who have Canadian credentials.”

“We are the third-largest in terms of hosts for international students worldwide. It’s very important to our economy,” she said. “They bring in a lot of revenue and we are getting more dependent on their tuition as income for institutions. It’s becoming scary I would say.”

International students see an increase in tuition fees

Some international students are seeing an increase in tuition fees, despite not being able to access the campus and associated amenities.

York University has increased costs by 10 per cent recently, to maintain “competitive rates.”

“During this period of uncertainty, we recognize the additional challenges faced by international students and the financial commitment they make to pursue post-secondary studies,” a York University spokesperson said. “To mitigate and reduce the impact of the increase to international students during this difficult time, all international students, new and continuing, received a $2000 financial award towards fall/winter 2020-2021 tuition.”

While tuition for domestic students has been frozen at Ryerson University, international fees, in some cases, have increased to “remain in line with peer institutions.”

“This approach will allow us to invest in providing exceptional education and resources for our students, and in providing additional financial assistance for our students that need it most,” a school spokesperson said.

Centennial College is expecting a significant decrease in international enrolments next year, expecting the pandemic to also impact the number of students returning next year.

The school increased tuition fees for new international students by three per cent and one point five percent for returning students, calling this a modest increase that minimizes the financial burden on this group.

“This modest increase reflects our values and desire to do something meaningful to support our current international students who we know are struggling,” a spokesperson said. “The equivalent of the tuition increase, and more, have been returned to students in the form of emergency financial assistance and scholarships.”

George Brown states it has not increased tuition for international students in the fall semester.


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