Following OSAP changes, international student tuition could rise

A gap in tuition and resources greets peers from abroad

International students pay about five times the rate for their degree as domestic students.
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The  Province’s recent changes to OSAP are costing Ontario universities a collective $360 million—and international students may help cover the difference.

While domestic students paid an average of $7,943.44 before tax for a Queen’s Arts and Science undergraduate degree,  international students paid an average of $40,168.17, depending on their time of enrolment.

Meanwhile, Ontario student tuition is being cut by 10 per cent—bringing it down to approximately $7,150. In a Jan. 29 Senate meeting, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Tom Harris said Queen’s could lose  $31.4 million in revenue as a result of the overall OSAP changes.

This revenue dip presents a challenge for Ontario’s universities. Admitting more international students as a response can potentially help cover the costs of OSAP changes, as their tuition is under none of the same requirements or limits as domestic tuition rates.

Indeed, Harris said that tuition for international students could increase next year as a result of Ontario student tuition cuts. Granted, tuition prices are “assessed for comparability with those of peer institutions,” Harris wrote in an email to The Journal.

However, while the average international tuition in Ontario is 3.7 times that of the domestic, according to a 2017 CBC article, Queen’s price tag is roughly five times higher for international students.

In their 2015 International Plan, the University aimed to have 10 per cent of its students international by 2019. In the 2018-19 school year, Queen’s international student population increased to 11.6 per cent, a 7.9 per cent rise from the previous year. 

Recruitment in China

At Queen’s, international students are most likely from China. Of the 11.6 per cent international students making up total enrollment, Chinese students comprise 59 per cent.

Queen’s current connection with China began about 20 years ago. As China saw huge economic growth, Queen’s pursued enrolling more of its young people.

Emily Hill, an associate professor in Queen’s History department, was hired to foster relations between Queen’s and universities in China. According to her, Queen’s internationalizes its campus to increase revenue, but also to gain a diverse community and a global reputation.

“We got a good relationship established, and it has benefitted us in many ways,” Hill said. “But the University would not have supported it if it weren’t for their aim of recruiting students.”

In China, Queen’s and Canadian universities have gained a reputation arguably equivalent to Ivy League schools like Harvard.

When students return to China with degrees from Canadian universities, they’re quick to find employment. International experience and foreign language skills make Chinese students marketable to a range of companies and organizations, including the Chinese government.

“If you’ve gone to study in a more developed country than China, then you’ll be looked up to when you get back,” Hill said. 

For this reason, parents in China are willing to pay higher tuition than Canadian parents to fund their children’s futures. They’re also more likely to have fewer children than Canadians and are more willing to invest their savings in a child’s education.

For international students, however, this cultural difference can turn into a negative stereotype.

Natasha Siyi Zhang, ConEd ’21, and Songyang Zhou, ConEd ’20, said students at Queen’s tend to think all international students come from prominent, wealthy families.

“In reality, it’s a family generation business,” Zhou said. “Our grandparents on both sides are working to make the money to send one kid to university.”

Zhou’s grandparents sold their house to be able to help his parents afford Canadian tuition for one child—and that kind of story isn’t unique.

The Chinese government hopes this will result in students returning to advance their economy, according to Hill. Often, however, the best ones don’t.

Is the experience worth its price?

In Zhang’s past two years at Queen’s, her tuition has increased by 17.6 per cent, or $6,930. That two-year increase is almost equivalent to one total year of domestic tuition.

However, international students who express their concerns receive little sympathy from domestic students. 

“They say, ‘Why would you come here then?’” Zhang said. “Well, we didn’t know how much the price would increase.”

International students need to pay more than domestic students since they don’t pay Ontario taxes and their tuitions aren’t government-subsidized. 

For Zhou, the drastic difference in tuition rates and the yearly increase aren’t justified.

“It’s mind-boggling to hear those numbers, but when it’s the reality for your family to pay, it’s even harder to fathom,” Zhou said. 

If the resources were there to justify the expense, it may be more understandable. In reality, Zhou and Zhang feel largely isolated.

“This year, when I looked at the tuition, I just felt a lot of rage,” Zhang said. “Because I think at the same time I was really struggling in terms of finding who I am. Do I even fit into this community? Why am I paying so much and not feeling that I belong?”

While the Queen’s University International Centre is designed to help students integrate into a new community, Zhou and Zhang said it doesn’t always pay attention to the diverse needs of students from different locations and backgrounds.

Hill agreed the University needs more services to help bridge the gap between the educations international students receive in Ontario and those they were raised with back home.

For example, the education system in China is substantially different. According to Hill, the Chinese education system tends to value memorization over creativity. 

As a result, some international students require more time commitments from their instructors.

While providing campus with cultural diversity, international connections, and substantial revenue, international students require more attention.

“The [international] undergrads and grads are mostly really good students,” Hill said. “But even the best ones need more training because their system is so different.”

Tuition on the rise

Dr. Zhang Zhiyao is the director of Queen’s China Liaison Office. According to him, the international population at Queen’s is lower than other Ontario universities and the University is aiming to raise that number.

“If we want to offer students a quality educational experience, we need the revenue, even though we’re not a money-making institution,” he said. “We need money to maintain the quality of the education.”

According to Zhiyao, Queen’s objective is to “try and increase international student percentage steadily” while also diversifying the student body.

Zhang and Zhou, however, notice more Chinese students each year.

The numbers tell the whole story: Every year since the partnership began, there has been an increase in the number of international students and in the price of their tuition at Queen’s. 

The question is if the quality of their resources will increase alongside their costs.

“We don’t feel like the University does right by us,” Zhang said. “We feel like we’re just ATM machines.”

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