Canadian universities and colleges raked in more than $9.6 billion in tuition from international students in a single year.

Despite making up just 17 per cent of students studying in Canada, international students contributed 43.5 per cent of all tuition fees collected in 2020, according to the most recent survey by Statistics Canada. It reports 373,599 international students attended a university or degree-granting college in 2020-2021.

The StatCan Canada tuition and living accommodation costs survey does not calculate the total amount international students pay in tuition across the country and it doesn’t keep record of this population by level of study.

But, based on the average cost of tuition for these students in 2020 — the most recent year figures are available — domestic and foreign students spent a total estimated $22 billion.

Universities and colleges are collecting more from international students every year with increases in tuition, while prices for domestic or in-province students are paying about the same or facing smaller increases.

The most common complaints from international students include the lack of “a cap on how much tuition can be raised, and (there is) less financial aid services than the Canadian students,” said Damanpreet Singh, international student representative for the Canadian Federation of Students.

The University of British Columbia, for example, increased tuition fees for international students for 2023-2024 by five per cent for new students, and three per cent for those returning for another year of study. UBC expects to collect $54 million more in tuition than it did last year.

The university also expects to be short $1 million in fees from domestic students.

Montreal’s McGill University is one of the only schools in Canada that has introduced a guaranteed tuition model for new international students to establish fixed fees for each term, and “eliminate uncertainty around tuition costs,” according to the university’s latest budget. Still, tuition fees remain the second-biggest revenue stream for McGill.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Community College said by email that federal and provincial taxes subsidize post-secondary schools to support domestic students.

“Tuition for international students is not subsidized here,” the spokesperson said.

In March, Ontario extended its tuition freeze for Ontario residents for the upcoming year.

The University of Toronto estimates the freeze has cost the institution $195 million in revenue since 2019. Fees for international students will be increasing by 2.1 per cent.

Samarjeet Singh, a former international student who graduated from Cape Breton University in May, has advice for those who come to Canada to study: don’t worry about permanent residency.

“The main thing that students should keep in mind when they’re planning to come to Canada is to think of a career — don’t think of residency,” said Samarjeet, who is training to be a public health inspector in Manitoba.

Chasing permanent resident status is what keeps international students from pursuing better job opportunities, he said. “As long as I have a good job, and I can continue to get a permit to work, that’s good enough for me.”

New research involving 1,300 international students in B.C. reveals they are getting stuck in jobs outside their fields of study and that post-secondary institutions put more emphasis on recruiting students than ensuring their success.

On top of paying more than five times what domestic students spend on tuition, international students face increased pressure to excel at their university or college.

“If you fail in three subjects, you will be thrown out of the college,” said Jaspreet Singh, an international student at Conestoga College in Ontario and vice-president of the Sikh Student Association there.

Jaspreet said he knows international students aren’t getting enough food or sleep because their time is spent studying or working. He wants schools to prioritize international students’ mental well-being, and employment success.

Although he says he can’t deny the value of his education, he recognizes that studying in Canada isn’t easy.

Despite these difficulties “we are optimistic about the future,” said Jaspreet, “so that gives us strength.”

Vancouver Sun


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