Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Foreign Students are University Cash Cows

Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Foreign Students are University Cash Cows

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about.

Foreign Students are University Cash Cows

A recent news article alleged that Canadian universities are using foreign students as “cash cows”, noting that record numbers of foreign students are enrolling in universities, while those same universities are raising admission standards to limit numbers of local student applicants.

The University of Manitoba, for example, had a jump of 40% foreign student enrollment in one year, and the University of Alberta saw an increase of 17%. At the University of British Columbia, an initiative to deliberately increase foreign enrolment has seen increases of more than 200 percent since 1996. Although international students still represent a fairly small fraction of the total, they account for a significant dollar contribution, since foreign students pay about triple the tuition Canadian students do.

These universities travel the world to recruit international students, but they insist that the high tuition paid by foreign students is not the primary motivation. A representative for the U of A stated that universities must attract the best and brightest graduate students from not just Canada but from around the world, adding that international students expose students to “other cultures, other languages and other ways of thinking.”

A rather weak argument, when you consider that in every province except Manitoba, the number of students seeking to enter university is growing faster than government funding to universities is able to accommodate them. As universities raise admission standards and turn away students, foreign students become an attractive “cash cow.” When a university has a choice of providing a spot for a Canadian student or one who will pay three times the tuition – the choice seems logical.

The greatest numbers of international students are in the graduate programs – at the U of A international students represent only 3.2 percent of undergrads, yet they comprise 20 percent of graduates! When limited graduate spots are already subject to intense competition and high admission standards, one has to wonder what the total effect of this policy will be a few years down the road. Educators are already predicting a huge shortage of PhD’s in Canada, and its hard to imagine that the policy of increasing foreign graduate students will do much towards solving that problem.

AU, because of its open admission standards, could theoretically admit unlimited numbers of foreign students without ever displacing Canadian ones. However, our international enrollment is relatively low, and of course international students can study at AU without ever leaving home!

Source: Edmonton Journal, January 7, 2004. “Canadian students losing out as schools seek foreign scholars: Universities deny foreigners serve as cash cows”. CanWest News Service, Ottawa

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