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In my opinion

The downside of Canada’s addiction to international student money

High tuition filters out poor but often academically qualified students from other countries.

BY KRUPA PATEL | JUL 19 2022

My father was one of very few university graduates in our village. He is the most optimistic and logical person in my family, always putting our education first.

When he was looking for a partner, his first condition was that she should be educated, no matter the field. In India much has changed in terms of education, but few women from my parents’ generation had educational opportunities. The situation was even worse during my grandparents’ generation; my grandma studied only until eighth grade, at a very poorly funded public school.

I have inherited my father’s valuation of education, but I am paying three times what Canadians in my university class at Simon Frase University pay for the same education. We all have financial, emotional and academic concerns, but I carry a higher financial burden for being an outsider. Immigrants pay the same as Canadians for an education they could not get in their own country, but learning isn’t equally accessible to us foreign students.

I am currently enrolled at SFU in the Semester in Dialogue program, and part of my tuition is justified by the connections I’m building. I’m meeting amazing influencers, whether they’re faculty, expert guests, or my classmates.

I pay $3,055 per course and need to take at least three courses or nine credits to qualify as a full-time student. For three courses, student service fees, a medical plan, SFU’s health and dental coverage, and primary medical insurance, I pay $11,135 per term. That doesn’t include living expenses such as groceries, recreation, my mobile plan and rent. The cost for Canadian residents is $599 per course, and the total per semester as a full-time student is $3,187.

The numbers on the federal government’s website demonstrate the importance of international students in Canada. In 2021, 21 per cent of undergraduates and 29 per cent of graduate students were international students. In 2018, we contributed $19.7 billion to Canada’s GDP and held 218,577 jobs. We helped reduce Canada’s skilled labour shortage, yet job vacancies surged to 700,000 in 2021, especially for health-care and other skilled workers. After completing our studies in 2021, 130,000 former study permit holders were granted permanent residency. Bill S-215, the Post-secondary Institutions Bankruptcy Protection Act, was initiated by Senator Lucie Moncion. Speaking in favour of the act in May, Senator Ratna Omidvar emphasized the need to rethink the unsustainable financial model for postsecondary institutions, noting that the federal government’s contribution decreased by 40 per cent per student between 1992 and 2016. She acknowledged the financial stress, unforgiving timelines, social isolation and parental stress that international students experience.

Today I’m 7,000 miles away from my family, sitting in a downtown SFU classroom of 20 students, learning about philanthropy. I’m missing my family back home, after three years of working part time, studying full time, and dealing with the financial burden. At times I’ve questioned why I’m taking on so much stress financially and how perhaps it would have been adequate to have studied in a college in India, like many of my high-school classmates.

I work for little more than a minimum wage salary and am legally allowed to only work part-time. I pay the same tax as any working domestic student would. When I calculate the budget from my monthly salary, I’m always in debt, unable to save for my tuition. I feel guilty when I have to ask for tuition fees from my father and wonder if I must study in such an expensive institution while putting my family’s comfort aside.

Unfortunately, Canadian universities are addicted to international student money, but there’s a downside: the high tuition filters out poor, but often academically qualified students from other countries. The Canadian government wants to bring in immigrants who can contribute economically, but there are some brilliant brains out there who are never given a chance to study and potentially immigrate here.

If Canada wants to build its economy on immigrants, there have to be some funding reductions.

Krupa Patel is an undergraduate student in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University.

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  1. Cathy Hall-Patch / July 21, 2022 at 01:22

    Thanks for writing this column and letting the rest of us know the reality of being an international student in our institutions and suffering under the burden of horrendous tuition fees. Also the inability to work more hours to actually make enough to offset these fees. As you say….it’s set up to ensure that the poor but capable student can never access this education.

    • Shivam / July 26, 2022 at 15:38

      As an international student from India; I disagree with this article. Trust me most(not all but majority) undergrad students who enter Canada are dumb, they’re rejected by indian universities. I was an international grad student and I haven’t paid single dollar as tuition fees. I got scholarships, TA and my thesis was funded by provincial govt! For scholarships, I had to compete with domestic students and yeah your GPA matters. Instead of complaining she could’ve proved her worth with her grades.

      • Vijay Thirugnanam / July 27, 2022 at 22:35

        I disagree too. The opportunity should be available for everyone, not just the talented. There are streams that do not get government funding or provide aid to international students. In india, only the most talented people have access to higher education. In Canada, it looks like only the rich have access to higher education.

        This situation reminds me of courts in India. I had to hire a lawyer to defend the custody of my child. I spent thr equivalent of C$20,000 on a lawyer. He lost the case and I was left with nothing. At that time, I felt only the rich have access to justice.

  2. Ty / July 23, 2022 at 08:14

    Judging from the look of things, if you are still an undergraduate students I bet you don’t have an intention of returning to your country even though you initially convinced them that you will. You loved the thriving economy, the quietness and peace around here…citizens pay for it with their tax, and international students pay for it with their extra tuition fees…..they are not depending on international student’s fee literally. This is why they have several option for people to emigrate. If you don’t intend to go back, come through PR, and study like a citizen.

    • Katie / July 25, 2022 at 21:08

      While I agree with Ms. Patel that our high tuition likely keeps low-income but smart international students out of our universities, I’m confused by her urging that we need “funding reductions”. I’d argue we need funding increases to universities, but not reductions to the international student tuition amounts. Public universities are subsidized to, primarily, educate Canadians. It would not be appropriate nor politically feasible to have international students pay the same as Canadian students when there is no guarantee they will remain in Canada after completing their studies, nor when there is no historical contribution (through taxes) by the student or their family. The argument could be made that Canadian students could leave after graduation but the data would show that is a minority of students.

      I can recognize my privilege as someone who was born and raised in Canada — it’s easy for me to not worry about obtaining a quality education. However, the majority of international students in Canada come from high- and middle-income countries (e.g., China, India, Korea, etc.) and there are good universities in those countries. I fail to see the connection between high international student fees and Canada’s economic immigration model though. Canada brings in immigrants who have already obtained education and work experience to fill labour market gaps, recognizing many of these folks have obtained high-quality education in their home country. If we were educating students from low-income and economically precarious countries (e.g., Algeria, Haiti, Vietnam) I would recognize the need for a different approach.

      • MR / July 27, 2022 at 19:46

        When you are in india no

  3. Steve M / July 24, 2022 at 16:21

    You are forgetting that Canadian families for generation have been paying a large proportion of their income to tax weather they went to university or not. That is why you are paying more for the education.

    • Anonymous / July 26, 2022 at 21:16

      And you’re forgetting that Canadian families for generation have also been benefiting from the tax they pay. It’s not like international students were benefiting from Canadian public welfare before coming to Canada.

  4. Pranitha Ramchander / July 24, 2022 at 18:54

    I agree with you . I am in the same situation . I am considering going back home . It is very difficult to find a job here .

    • Akin / July 26, 2022 at 02:57

      If I may ask, what type of job do you need?

  5. Sal / July 25, 2022 at 13:10

    If funding reduction to be made, then a very stricter and tighter admission procedures needed to select those “brilliant brains” out there you are mentioning……and clear motivation from applicants end need to be proven….
    Sadly a major chunk of the Canadian University are bringing really dumb brains from India, china and other third world countries….