Free tuition, free textbooks, free education. In an ideal world, a student would be able to attend University without racking up a bill that could potentially force them into crippling debt. However, tuition fees continue to rise. For domestic students, specifically in British Columbia, the tuition cannot increase by more than 2% annually due to the Tuition Limit Policy implemented in 2005. In comparison, international students remain without a tuition cap and can experience drastic changes in tuition.
“International students make up a fifth of BC University enrolment,” said BCFS Chairperson, Simla Marshall, “and they contribute almost half of the University’s revenue from tuition fees.”
Research done by the British Columbia Federation of Students revealed that “international students are the third largest export in British Columbia, and bring in $1.77 billion to the provincial GDP [annually]” states Marshall.
Marshall argues that, due to the high financial influence of international students, British Columbia, and each of its institutions, have come to rely heavily on international students.
“It’s creating a really unsustainable system,” says Marshall, “one of the reasons why we’re really boosting international student enrolment in British Columbia is because . . . [international students] bring a massive boost to the [provincial] economy.”
International undergraduate student tuition at UBC Okanagan for arriving students has increased drastically over the past years. New international undergraduate students in 2014/2015 paid an average of $23,999 for a full course load during the academic year, while this year’s arriving students in 2017/2018 paid an average of $34,912 for a full course load – an increase of approximately 30% over the past three years.
“Colleges and universities [are using international students] to subsidize the system, as you can see from how much they get from tuition fee revenue,” says Marshall, “these are students that are coming here from another country because Canada is one of the top ranked in the world for education and we host the 6th most international students globally, and of course they deserve to be treated fairly.”
Statistics Canada reported that Canadian domestic undergraduate students paid an average of $6,571 in tuition fees during the 2017/2018 academic year, an increase of 3.1% from the previous year. International undergraduate students, in contrast, received a 6.3% increase in tuition fees from the previous academic year, paying an average of $25,180 in 2017/2018.
Increases in tuition fees for international tuition fees operate differently than domestic fees. Domestic tuition fees increase by anywhere between 0-2% each year, depending on the Board of Governors’ decision, and arriving students will pay approximately the same amount as current students.
International student tuition fees, unlike domestic fees, are increased each year for arriving at UBC. This initial amount, which is raised drastically each year, is then increased in subsequent years by an amount comparable to domestic students, usually 2-3%.
For example, in recent years, the Report to Board of Governors regarding tuition shows the cost for tuition fees for arriving international students has increased by approximately 13% between both 2015/2016 to 2016/2017 (in which the price fluctuated from $26,399 to $30,359) and 2016/2017 to 2017/2018 (in which fees changed from $30,359 to $34,912).
For those students that arrived in 2016/2017, the price of their tuition fees (approximately $30,359) increased by 3% effective in the upcoming year. When they returned for the 2017/2018 academic year, their tuition was roughly $31,269, unlike arriving international students which paid approximately $34,912 in international tuition fees for the 2017/2018 academic year.
In this case, although the students are entering Canada, “because international student expenditure represents revenue for goods and services from overseas, this representation of international education services is an export from Canada,” according to report done by Roslyn Kunin and Associates.
Although the tuition has risen dramatically, it has not slowed down applicants. The UBC 2016/2017 annual report on enrolment stated that in 2014 there were 1,019 new international students that were admitted to UBC-Okanagan, of which 283 registered for courses. Only 2 years later, in 2016, there were 2,011 new international students admitted to UBC-Okanagan with 404 students registering for courses.
Marshall stated that during her time at the UBCO expo in January, she spoke to several international students who relayed the problematic changes in tuition fees, and the ensuing financial struggle they endured as a result.
“These unpredictable tuition fees could force international students to drop out or turn to other countries for more affordable education,” says Marshall, “which would result in a huge toll on BC’s economy and on the institutions.”
Marshall stated that BCFS is campaigning to establish a tuition cap for international students that is similar to the cap instituted for domestic students.
In a Board of Governors report regarding tuition in the 2018/2019 academic year it states “these moderate increases in tuition will allow the University to continue to invest in teaching and research excellence,” as well as, “these tuition increases are applied to maintain and enhance UBC’s ability to make investments that will strengthen the teaching, learning and research mission, and excellence, of the University.”
Sentiments that current Board of Governors student representative, Terry Zhang, shares: “it’s important for students to understand where the revenue from increased tuition goes, often times it goes towards financial support for students that adds up to over $300 million a year for those in need.”
In previous years, the Board of Governors has revised tuition fees for international students, following complaints from students and student unions, namely the UBC Vancouver AMS and the UBC-Okanagan SUO. As Zhang remarked, the Board of Governors proposed a “roughly 50% increase of international tuition over the course of three years, and after complaints from students, they were able to bring it down to [approximately] 40%.”
Zhang continued, mentioning that dealing with the price of international tuition is a difficult topic. “International students often leave Canada or work internationally after graduating [from] UBC, so their impact on Canadian economy and workforce is essentially zero if they do leave UBC,” said Zhang.