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The latest international student tuition hikes are putting Kerri Flanagan’s final year on hold.

After taking out two loans to pay her $24,000 fee, a miscommunication between the private loan agency and Carleton University have left the Boston native unable to register for fall courses.

“It’s my fourth year, what am I going to do? I’ve already invested all this money into my education, I can’t just quit now,” she said.

Kerri Flanagan

Kerri Flanagan, a fourth-year student at Carleton University, originally from Boston. [Photo © Saskia Rodenburg]

Tuition for international students rose an average of 6.3 per cent this year to $25,180 per student according to Statistics Canada, nearly four times the average tuition for domestic students. In the wake of increases to provincial and federal student aid for the 2017/2018 school year, students and advocacy groups are calling for the government to tackle the international student tuition increases and expand financial aid.

Recent policy changes in Ontario include new grants, free tuition for low-income students, and equal access to OSAP for mature students. However, international students are unable to access federal grants or loans unless they are permanent residents, something the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) wants to change. The CFS claims international students are used as cash cows to supplement domestic tuition fees, and want them to be eligible for government aid.

“Because international students don’t have a lot of direct political influence in Canada, it’s easier for provincial governments to target them.” said Juhi Sohani, communications coordinator at the national office of the CFS. “These tuition fees are deregulated. It’s exploitation.”

But Ontario’s Ministry of Education said tuition fees are determined by each school’s board of governors, and often tied to the government subsidies they get.

“Ontario universities and colleges receive government funding to subsidize the cost of each domestic student; institutions do not receive this subsidy for international students,” said Ingrid Anderson, communications representative for the Ontario Ministry of Education. 

Anderson said this also explains why the year-over-year tuition increases are greater than domestic student tuition hikes. Universities don’t receive any money from the government for enrolling international students, so their tuition rates aren’t regulated.

International students struggling with increased tuition 

Lily Akagbosu

Lily Akagbosu is a Carleton University international student originally from Nigeria. [Photo © Saskia Rodenburg]

The cost of affording education shouldn’t be a matter of citizenship, according to Lily Akagbosu, a fourth-year international student at Carleton from Nigeria, and the administrative coordinator of the university’s International Student Centre.

“The families of the students actually sacrifice a lot to send them here for studies, just because they believe in the quality of the education. But for most people, I would say it’s not a convenient choice, it just seems like a necessary sacrifice,” she said.

Akagbosu said she often sees international students struggle to afford food and housing while paying for school. Though equal tuition and financial aid for international students would be the best possible option, she said more resources would be a good place to start. Akagbosu said she would like to see more information on how to budget for living in Canada.

“Nothing has been done, to be frank. I don’t know all of the details, but I don’t want to think it’s because people don’t care,” she said.

The lack of access to information was especially apparent for Kerri Flanagan when she tried to figure out what financial assistance was available to international students. After visiting several service centres at her university, she turned to Google for information on student loans.

“If the government could give aid, that would be ideal,” she said, “but I get it, you’re not a citizen, you coming here is your own choice.”

Student groups step in

Students and student groups have taken over filling the resource gap for international students. Lily Akagbosu’s own experiences as an international student inspired her to host workshops at the International Students Centre covering how to budget, plan meals, and find adequate student housing.

“I found that the other workshops that I had attended, they didn’t even have much information that was specifically relevant to international students . . . so we had to come up with something more specific to their needs,” she said.

Other student groups, like the CFS, are also trying to advocate for international students through events and lobbying. Their eventual goal is to give international students the same benefits as domestic students.

“International students bring important educational perspectives as well as economic activity and growth,” said Sohani. “We’re never at a disadvantage when we have more educated people who can help build our economy.”  

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