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With Demand Booming, International Student Tuition Climbs Ever Higher

Students’ federation fears schools becoming dependent on ever-increasing tuition fees.

Katie Hyslop 25 Feb

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here. Contact her here.

Just over two years ago, Kwantlen Polytechnic University did something unprecedented: it stopped accepting applications from international students because there were just too many flooding in for the 2018 spring semester.

The Surrey-based university received 1,200 international student applications for the fall 2017 semester and took in enough students to increase its international enrolment by 41 per cent.

But it was unprepared for the almost 3,600 applications that came in for the next semester and closed applications.

“We opened again for fall 2018,” said Carole St. Laurent, Kwantlen’s associate vice-president international, “and again got flooded. So we had to close the applications immediately.”

Kwantlen has since “recalibrated” its international student program, she said. Applications are open, but the seats are limited: 700 for the fall 2019 semester, 1,000 for spring 2020.

There are about 4,500 international students at Kwantlen currently, more than 20 per cent of the student body. Like other public post-secondary schools in B.C., at Kwantlen no domestic student seats are given to international students. Class sizes never go above 35 students.

But unlike domestic students, whose tuition fee increases are capped at two per cent annually and benefit from provincial government operating grants, international students have no tuition caps in B.C. Tuition fees are intended to cover all the costs of their education, the government said in its 2012 International Education Strategy report.

St. Laurent said Kwantlen looked at a number of factors before setting tuition fees for international students.

“We need to ensure that we continue to offer international students a quality education experience and still at a reasonable price. So we looked at prices relative to other post-secondary institutions in British Columbia,” she said.

“We’re about in the middle. We’re not at where the tier one universities are charging, as we should be.”

The tuition hikes are obviously affecting international students, and we’ll explore that in a later story.

But the hikes have also come after more than decade of decreases in provincial government funding for domestic students at post-secondaries.

The BC Federation of Students reports B.C. government funding for post-secondary institutions dropped 22 per cent between 2000 and 2015.

Kwantlen’s own independent financial audits show a drop in the share of funding provided by the provincial government. In 2004/05 government funding of $55 million was almost double the $31 million in tuition revenue; in 2017/18 the $77 million in tuition revenue exceeded the $76 million provincial grant. While the 2004/05 audit did break down revenue from international and domestic tuition fees, the 2017/18 audit does not.

The BC Federation of Students warns these international tuition increases, and schools’ increasing reliance on international students for revenue despite space shortages, could hurt the institutions if they price out some international students and make post-secondary education — at least for international students in B.C. — solely for the rich.

If tuition doesn’t stay in line with other regions in Canada or other countries we compete with for international students, that revenue source could go away, warns federation president Aran Armutlu.

“International students choose to come to British Columbia as a destination, but if we reach a point where they feel like they’re being mistreated or it’s not worth it for them to come here, they can just as easily go somewhere else,” he said.

“Then that revenue stream that institutions are seeing is not going to be there anymore, and all those contributions that they’re making to our economy aren’t going to be there anymore, either.”

The province itself is very hands-off when it comes to international student tuition, telling The Tyee via an email from a Ministry of Advanced Education spokesperson that institutions’ boards of governors set international student enrolment and tuition policies.

While tuition levels vary, the BC Federation of Students estimates that international tuition can be three to five times as much as domestic tuition.

For the undergraduate arts programs at Kwantlen in 2017/18, international students paid $17,166 a year — four times the domestic tuition.

The growth in international students at Kwantlen means more teachers and staff are needed, St. Laurent said. “The growth really added to budgetary pressures, and we had to do something, because you can’t draw from your operational budget for international students.”

Which is why international students who started in the fall of 2017 or earlier saw their Kwantlen tuition fees increase 15 per cent over two years.

Students who enrolled in 2018 paid 15-per-cent higher tuition, though their tuition fees are frozen for the 2019/20 school year.

Kwantlen is not alone in experiencing a flood of international students. Simon Fraser University closed applications for new international students for spring 2018. It proposed international student tuition fee increases of from four to 20 per cent, depending on the program, starting in fall 2019.

UBC has frozen its international student enrolment numbers until the 2024/25 school year, following five years of three-per-cent compounded annual growth in international student enrolments.

But it wasn’t that long ago that the provincial government was pushing schools to add more international students. In 2011 then premier Christy Clark challenged schools from primary to post-secondary to increase their international student numbers by 50 per cent by 2016.

The benefit was as much for institutions’ bottom lines as it was for the province’s: international students are credited with creating 26,000 jobs and contributing $1.7 billion annually to the province’s GDP.

B.C.’s public post-secondary schools ended up increasing their international enrolment by 61 per cent to more than 45,000 students by 2015.

That same year, international students’ undergraduate tuition made up half of the tuition revenue that B.C. universities pulled in, with an average annual undergraduate tuition fee of $20,485, although international students represented just 20 per cent of the overall student body.

Average domestic undergrad tuition fees at the time were $5,397.

But nearly half of international students are not wealthy, claims the BC Federation of Students, which bases its estimate on a 2013 U.S. study that found nearly half of the 3,000 international students surveyed did not have strong financial resources.

The federation is calling for a cap on annual international tuition fee increases, which already exists for domestic students. It also wants universities to be as transparent as possible about future tuition fee increases so students can plan ahead.

But that can’t happen unless the province comes up with more funding to replace the future revenue from higher international student tuition, says Armutlu.

“We’re actually at a point now in 2018/19 where we’re seeing that tuition fees are actually accounting for more of university and college revenue than provincial funding,” he said, which is a change from the 1990s when provincial funding made up more than half of post-secondary revenue.

“We want to see funding increasing for our colleges and universities, and that way tuition can be progressively reduced as that funding increases.”

At Simon Fraser University, international student enrolment in 2016 was over 4,600, or 18 per cent of the student population, up from just over 2,000 or 9.6 per cent in 2007.

While SFU only closed off enrolment for international students for the spring 2018 semester, vice-president academic Peter Keller said it could be closed again in the future should the school reach its international student cap.

The administration wants to increase international student tuition fees again because of inflation and the rising costs of faculty recruitment and retention.

“[It’s] something that’s going up all the time,” Keller said of faculty costs. “That’s true especially in some of the professional areas: business, engineering and computing sciences.”

Which is why proposed international fee increases for those programs range from 16 to 20 per cent. The board of governors will vote on the increase as part of the overall budget in March.

But even that increase won’t be enough to balance the university’s budget, as provincial policy requires.

“There will be a $3.1-million shortfall, which we’re going to make up through savings,” Keller said, adding tuition fee rates aren’t higher than the cost of providing the students’ education.

Since tuition was raised at Kwantlen last fall, “we did not see a drop in applications or in interest” following the tuition hike, St. Laurent said. Nor is she aware of any drop in current students’ retention.

While the majority of Kwantlen’s increase in applications came from prospective students in India, China is still a major source of international students in B.C. Frosty relations between Canada and China — which recently warned its citizens against travelling here following Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last month — could also make prospective students think twice about coming to B.C.

Keller foresees a levelling off of students from some markets, like China, in the future, but he anticipates other markets, like India, will pick up the slack.

“So far there’s no indication that increases to international student tuition fees are reducing the demands,” he said. “And SFU certainly is very competitive with the fees charged by other universities.”


The Tyee asked all 25 B.C. public post-secondary institutions if they had closed applications to international students at any time between the 2013/14 and 2018/19 school years, or if they planned to do so by the 2020/21 school year.

We also asked about tuition increases. The province has publicized the cost of tuition for international students for the school years up to 2017/18, so had schools increased tuition since then?

Or have they made future plans or proposals to raise international student tuition up to and including the 2020/21 school year?

Here are the responses.


Tuition increase: International student tuition rates have been frozen since the 2016/17 school year and will not increase in 2019/20. Tuition fees for 2020/21 will be discussed at the November board of governors meeting.

Application cap or closure: While it has been discussed, a spokesperson for the college said it is not currently considering limiting international student applications.


Tuition increase: International tuition rates typically increase two per cent annually, in line with domestic student increases. The 2019/20 budget has yet to be approved, but according to an emailed statement from a university spokesperson the board of governors this month approved a plan to set fees for international undergraduate education at 3.98 times domestic tuition for new students starting in fall 2019. It had been set at 3.5 times domestic tuition.

Application cap or closure: No.


Tuition increase: Increases in-line with its domestic tuition rates expected for the next two school years. Unlike many other public post-secondaries in B.C. institutions, the college releases tuition increase information to students two years in advance.

Application cap or closure: No. There are plans for a “modest” increase in international students.


Tuition increase: No increases since 2017/18, but all new students will face a tuition increase in May: six per cent for English Language students; 10 per cent for everyone else. No decisions made yet on increases beyond the 2019/20 school year.

Application cap or closure: No.


Tuition increase: Tuition for part-time students, which includes nearly two-third of international students, is set “based on a multiplier of domestic student fees.” There has not been a part-time undergraduate international student fee increase since 2016. Fees for full-time students at each of BCIT’s six main programs of study are determined annually by each program and announced in the spring.

Application cap or closure: Some highly sought-after programs within the college limit their international student numbers to 20 per cent of the student body. However, there is no institute-wide application cap.


Did not respond by press time.


Tuition increases: Last increase was in 2017/18. No further increases planned up to and including 2020/21.

Application cap or closure: Anticipates an average annual international student enrolment increase of six per cent, or 197 full-time equivalent students.


Tuition increase: Last increase was three per cent between the 2017/18 to 2018/19 school years. There are no increases confirmed for the 2019/20 or 2020/21 school years.

Application cap or closure: No.


Tuition increase: Registrar Mary DeMarinis said the institute “does plan to increase its international presence in the next two years as we believe our programs can contribute to building a safer global community. However, we don’t expect the numbers of international students to change significantly. By policy, our tuition rate for international students is three times the rate of domestic students and we do not foresee changing this in the near future.

“Each year JIBC raises domestic tuition by two per cent in accordance with the ministry’s tuition policy and I expect that will be the case for the 2020/21 year.”

Application cap or closure: “The number of international students studying full time in JIBC programs makes up approximately five per cent of our student body and we do have plans underway to increase this number,” DeMarinis said.


Tuition increase: In September, tuition fees for current international student tuition were increased as part of a process to see them rise 15 per cent over two years. Newly enrolled international students paid tuition fees 15 per cent higher than they were in the 2017/18 school year, and their fees remain frozen at that rate for the 2019/20 school year.

Application cap or closure: International student enrolment closed for the spring and fall 2018 semesters due to overwhelming application numbers. It has since reopened.


Tuition increase: “We have not increased international tuition fees for a number of years,” reads an emailed statement from Ajay Patel, vice-president of external development at Langara. “We review tuition fees annually, and there has been no announcement to do so in the future.”

Application cap or closure: “We are now at capacity for space and are limited in what additional sections we can offer. As a result, application deadlines may close early to ensure we can meet that demand.”


Tuition increase: Proposed for the 2019/20 school year, pre-existing international undergrad tuition will increase by four per cent; new international students will pay the extra four per cent, plus an additional eight per cent increase unless they are in computer science, engineering sciences, or mechatronic systems engineering, where they will pay an additional 12 per cent. Incoming Beedie School of Business students will see an additional 16-per-cent tuition increase, on top of the four per cent increase. Graduate course tuition will increase between two and four per cent.

Application cap or closure: Spring 2018 enrolment was closed to international students after the enrolment cap for the 2017/18 school year was reached in August 2017. It has since re-opened.


Tuition increase: Proposed international tuition increases range from two to four per cent, depending on the program, starting May 2019 if approved by the board of governors.

Application cap or closure: UBC had a three-per-cent compound annual growth in international undergraduate student enrolment between 2014/15 and 2018/19. International undergraduate is enrolment is now frozen until 2023/24.


Tuition increase: The tuition rate has increased by approximately three to four per cent in 2017/18 and 2018/19. Tuition rates for 2020/21 have not yet been determined.

Application cap or closure: No.


Did not respond by press time.


Did not respond by press time.


Did not respond by press time.


Tuition increase: Every year domestic and international tuition increases by about two per cent. International tuition is about three times the domestic rate.

Application cap or closure: No official cap, but the institute’s mandate is to serve Indigenous students primarily. Currently international student numbers are in the single digits, compared to roughly 1,300 domestic students.


Tuition increase: Tuition fees for international students increased two to 5.9 per cent, depending on the program, starting in fall 2018. No increase is planned for the 2019/20 school year, and decisions on future increases have yet to be made.

Application cap or closure: No.


Tuition increase: For the first time since 2016, international tuition is being raised by three per cent annually starting September 2019 until 2021.

Application cap or closure: Unclear. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said, “Similar to other universities, TRU has experienced a significant increase in international student numbers in recent years. This has resulted in closer monitoring and management of enrolment going forward to ensure we have the appropriate student services and supports in place as well as academic resources.”


Tuition increase: Not since 2016, and no plans for future increases at the moment.

Application cap or closure: No.


Did not respond by press time.


Tuition increase: International student tuition increases at the same rate as domestic: two per cent annually. No fee increases for 2019/20 have been approved yet.

Application cap or closure: No.


Tuition increase: “The Board of Governors of the university approved a 20-per-cent increase for international student fees in 2018 as part of a two-year plan to raise international fee,” reads an emailed statement from Jim Dunsdon, associate vice-president of student affairs. “These fees were assessed to new students who started in 2018 and not current students. This two-year plan provides for a further 15 per cent in 2019/2020 (to students new to UVic as of 2018), subject to Board of Governors approval.”

Application cap or closure: “The university’s goal is to maintain a level of about 17 per cent of international students among our overall student population. There is no cap on international student enrolment but we are working hard to diversity the range of countries and regions that we attract students from to attend our institution,” Dunsdon’s statement read.


Tuition increase: VIU had changed the international student tuition rate in September 2017, and follows a two-year tuition increase schedule that is approved by the board of governors. The next scheduled increase would be in September 2019, and therefore the university will not be increasing rates for the 2020/21 year.

Application cap or closure: "We have consistently seen an increase in international students over the last ten years. We have never, nor do we have any intention of putting a cap on the number of international learners that can attend our institution. VIU’s Board of Governors follows a standard schedule of reviewing tuition for international students. One of our core values as an institution is to make post-secondary as accessible as possible to all our learners," reads an emailed statement from Norma MacSween, associate dean of International Education, adding the university offers bursaries and scholarships for international students.

This story was updated on Feb. 25, 2019 at 4:15 p.m. to correct information about international tuition increases at Vancouver Island University and expand on the lack of an application cap.  [Tyee]

Read more: Education, BC Politics

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