The downside of Canada’s addiction to international student money — University Affairs

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

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 have all 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 labor 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 favor 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.

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

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