Taking Notes: Eye on Education – International Students & Tuition

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. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


Recently the University of Alberta announced that, in addition to a 5.75 percent tuition increase for Canadian students, international students will be looking at a significant tuition hike of 23.5 percent. As usual, the argument is that university revenue shortfalls has created a budget deficit that can only be alleviated by increasing tuition. With the support of both the undergrad and graduate student unions, international students are protesting this move as discriminatory, arguing that they are disadvantaged and lacking a political voice.

International students provide many benefits to a university and many Canadian universities actively recruit students from the U.S. and abroad. In addition to differential tuition (usually double the domestic amount) and contributions to the economy, students and the community benefit from the diversity. A university’s research status is enhanced when it draws top-notch students from around the world, and universities who attract large numbers of international students enjoy a high level of prestige and enhanced quality reputation.

To that end, one university in Canada has taken a different route. In 1998, the University of Windsor introduced the NAFTA tuition fee policy, under which U.S. students pay significantly less than other international students. They have not actively publicized this controversial move up until now, since it means Canadian taxpayers are subsidizing American students, but that is scheduled to change when their aggressive U.S. marketing campaign is unveiled. With U.S. universities such as the University of Phoenix taking up residence in Canada, the potential impact of NAFTA and free trade on our universities could be significant (in Alberta, the government legislates the tuition portion for international students at double that of Canadian citizens). Add to that the fact that Americans have boosted funding to public universities by 25 percent since 1980, while Canadians have decreased IT by 20 percent, and the picture becomes even more complicated (Macleans, 2004).

There are implications for Athabasca University. As we move toward U.S. accreditation, it is hoped that the university may become more attractive to American students. Undergraduate U.S. students currently pay the international rate (many of AU’s graduate programs do not charge a differential). Under AU’s strategic plan, the current differential tuition across provinces ($55) is scheduled to be lowered and eventually eliminated, and although the idea of altering differential tuition for U.S. has been floated, any decisions in that regard remain to be seen.


International Students protest proposed tuition increase: Express News, University of Alberta, December 1, 2004. http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/expressnews/articles/news.cfm?p_ID=6231
American students flock to ‘cool’ Canada: Canadian universities in fierce competition for lucrative foreign enrolment. Sarah Schmidt, CanWest News. Edmonton Journal, November 19, 2004.
MacLeans Magazine, November 15, 2004. University Rankings ’04.
AU Calendar, course fees: http://www.athabascau.ca/calendar/page05_03.html#canadian

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