The BC Federation of Students (BCFS) is reissuing an urgent warning about the precarity and vulnerability created by the overreliance on international student tuition fees to fund the province’s public post-secondary education system.
The BCFS has published a new research document, International Education in British Columbia: Keeping the Post-secondary System Afloat, highlighting systemic underfunding and a lack of regulation of international tuition fee increases, which have led institutions to lean on international student tuition fees to make up for budget and funding shortfalls.
“If international students choose not to study in our province, our education system will collapse,” said Melissa Chirino, BC Federation of Students Chairperson. “We need a funding model that makes education more affordable and less reliant on unpredictable funding sources, like changes in international student enrollment. Otherwise, our institutions will find themselves in financial trouble again.”
The recent travel advisory from the Indian government to its citizens travelling to or living in Canada is another clear example of unpredictable situations that may influence international students’ decisions to study in Canada and why relying on international student tuition fees to fund the education system is not the answer.
Students across the province are also awaiting the release of the BC Government’s sector-wide review of how it funds BC’s 25 public post-secondary institutions, which has been underway since March 2022. The skyrocketing cost of international student fees has been masking the problem of chronic underfunding in our sector; in 2000, provincial funding made up 68% of operational revenue and now makes up only 40%.
“We believe the funding review will echo our research and find that more government funding is needed to ensure institutions can adequately support students and programming,” said Chirino. “It’s time to stop relying on tuition fees, especially international student fees, to fund the system and for the government to resume its role as the main source of funding for post-secondary.”
On average, international students in post-secondary pay 4 to 5 times more than their domestic peers. Student advocates have long asked, what happens if international students choose not to, or are unable to study in Canada. The Federation’s new research reaffirms its worries and sheds light on the numerous impacts caused by decreased international enrollment experienced during the pandemic.
“International students bring so much value to our classrooms and communities and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect,” said Chirino. “They are under immense financial pressures paying for tuition, textbooks, food, and housing. If we continue relying on international students to fund our education system, they will not choose to study here. We need to act on what we learned during the pandemic.”
In its recommendations, the BCFS calls on the BC government to:
- invest an additional $500 million annually in operational funding for BC’s public institutions;
- freeze, then progressively reduce international and domestic student tuition fees and
- expand the Tuition Fee Limit policy to cap international student tuition fees at 2% annually
- In 2022-23, international undergraduate students in BC paid 426% more for their academic year than domestic students.
- Average international tuition: $32,909 vs. average domestic tuition: $6,256
- International fees are entirely unregulated in BC and can increase by any amount at any time, making it nearly impossible for international students to budget for their education.
- As a result of decreased international enrollment caused by the pandemic, 20 public institutions in BC were approved for deficit budgeting in the 2020-21 academic year, and 17 were approved to have another deficit budget in 2021-22.
- Okanagan College lost 25% of its international students during the pandemic, which roughly translated to 380 students. Those 380 students resulted in a loss of over $2.3 million in revenue; in comparison, the college also lost 900 domestic students, which resulted in a loss of $2.0 million.
- In Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s 2020-21 Fiscal Year, international student tuition fees comprise a third of the institution’s revenue, only 5% behind government funding:
- International Tuition Fee Revenue: 32%, Government operating grant: 37%
- Much of the growth of international student enrolment is in the institutions in rural regions such as the North, Okanagan, and Kootenays.
- In 2020-21, the composition of international students in BC was 35% from India, 26% from China, 4% from Vietnam, the United States, and South Korea. The remainder of international students are spread across 164 countries.
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