Tuition Hikes Will Keep International Students At Home

A personal account from a Concordia student

MONTRÉAL (CUP) — After graduating from high school in 2000, I moved from a small town south of Boston, Massachusetts, to Montréal, in order to attend Concordia University. I am fortunate enough to come from a middle-class family, and my parents could afford to pay for my university education.

They were tickled pink to see how much cheaper it was to send me to Canada for school — especially since my second choice was Northeastern University, where tuition would have cost over $23,000 a year. This meant I wouldn’t have to take out loans and be burdened with debt after I graduated. But not all international students are as fortunate. Many students struggle to pay the extra costs it takes to come to Montréal for school. While I save money by coming here, many students are from countries where university is free or very economical. Québec universities are not exactly encouraging international enrolment by jacking up the prices just for us.

Even without the higher tuition fees, international students already face a number of financial obstacles. It costs $100 to apply for a Certificat d’acceptence du Québec, a required document any student must obtain before applying for a student visa. One would then pay another $125 to apply to the Canadian government for a visa. Of course, it costs another $125 for each spouse or child that will be accompanying the student. All these fees are non-refundable, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada reserves the right to refuse the application if any documents or information are missing. A person could be out the application fee just because they forgot to include a passport style photo.

To add to their financial woes, international students are generally ineligible to work in Canada. And I can tell you from experience: on-campus jobs — the only ones we’re allowed to have — are hard to come by. Financial aid and bursaries are another method of cutting costs, but with all the paperwork international students have to fill out, it is hard to find the time and energy to apply. It takes time before these cheques are issued. International students need money up front to pay for rent and groceries and their already significantly higher tuition. International students are required to pay $480 per year for a health insurance plan even if they already have health insurance. And don’t get me started on the ridiculously long wait every year just to get your new health card for this mandatory policy!

In addition to all the financial and bureaucratic headaches of moving to Québec, international students also face the added stress of leaving home and coming to a new place. When I was applying to Concordia, the pamphlets I received claimed that arriving two weeks in advance would be enough to find an apartment and get settled before starting class. But anyone who has lived in Montréal for two weeks knows it takes longer than that to find an apartment. And we are given no priority over other students for rooms in the miniscule residence.

Many factors already discourage students from coming to Québec to study, even without charging them an arm and a leg for tuition. If tuition for international students is deregulated, it could end up costing someone like me the same as it would at a university back home — plus [at home] I wouldn’t need a visa, CAQ or separate health plan, and I could get a part time job. If international students get too discouraged, we may start choosing to stay at home or go elsewhere in Canada. And, there is more to lose than the extra money we bring in. I don’t know how much diversity an Irish Catholic Bostonian adds to the Concordia campus, but what about the students that come from Bangladesh, Lebanon, Russia, Ghana and other countries and cultures? These students bring with them their languages, ideas and lifestyles. If international fees go through the roof, Concordia could suffer from a more homogenous and less diverse campus in return.

Québec, and especially Montréal, is an amazing place to go to university and has a lot of new and exciting experiences to offer international students. Overwhelming debt should not be one of them.