Advocating for International Student Support Services

This past March, the OUSA General Assembly passed its newly-revised policy on International Students and Education. With various recommendations to the provincial government, it’s fantastic to see the organization move forward with this, recognizing key areas that need improvement when it comes to international students and international education.

I really hope that it sets a precedent for an increased focus from student leaders when it comes to advocating for international students on their respective campuses, especially with the upcoming release of the new funding formula for Ontario universities slated for September this year. As it is, domestic students are the focus of the tuition framework, and it fails to address the increasing barriers to education that tens of thousands of international students across the province face. As a domestic student, I guess I’ve never had to think about these barriers for myself, but the more I’ve learned about the systemic obstacles to post-secondary education for international students and the more “horror” stories I hear from my peers, the more I get a bit...riled up about the system.

The average Ontario undergraduate tuition for full-time international students currently sits around $32,278, over five times the amount for full-time domestic undergraduate students ($6,373). If you ask me, I think it’s pretty unfair to see that 28% of total tuition revenues for Ontario universities comes from 11% of the undergraduate population: international students. Although tuition fees continue to rise every year, domestic students are somewhat protected from rising tuition fees by annual tuition caps (3% for undergraduate programs and 5% for professional programs); however, tuition is deregulated for international students, leaving them completely susceptible to drastic hikes in their tuition fees.

With the new provincial funding formula rolling out this September, universities will see a decrease in enrolment-based funding for domestic students, a crucial piece of the puzzle for university operating revenues. Luckily for universities, they receive more funding from international tuition than government grants for domestic enrolment. As the province is projected to decline in domestic enrolment over the next decade, university administrators are clearly increasing their efforts for international student recruitment. Oftentimes in statements to university senates, news sources, and other members of the public interest, administrators have claimed that these increased efforts are due to the benefits of “globalization”. But to be honest, I think it’s pretty obvious that university funding is the biggest incentive for ramping-up international recruitment. I mean, I get it; we have to understand both the reality of a university administrator’s role to the public and of their fiscal responsibilities to their institution. Well, whatever the case may be, their efforts are working. Universities have seen a ~134% increase in additional revenue from international students over the past 5 years compared to ~8% for domestic tuition and domestic enrolment-based grants for universities; international students are also choosing to study in Canada at an increasingly swift rate, notably by about 70% over the past 5 years in Ontario.

As international student populations continue to rise on university campuses, it’s so important that student leaders are cognizant of the increased demand for supports and services for international students in their advocacy efforts. Increased enrolments for international students are currently not being paralleled by institutions or the province in the various supports and services needed for international students to thrive while pursuing post-secondary education in Ontario. It seems pretty straight-forward to me: if an institution has more students with particular needs enrolling in their programs, that institution should be increasing support services accordingly - simple. And that’s why we need student leaders to take the helm on this issue, the individuals who get a seat at the table with our administrators and represent our students. Whether it’s for better health care coverage, supporting students pursuing work, integration for students with language and cultural barriers, increasing international student-specific support staff and centres, or on tuition itself, student leaders must keep their universities accountable for the challenges that international students face, challenges that will only continue to be an increasingly large reality on our campuses.