Lofty fees lead to high con­tro­versy

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents pay much more, rais­ing fears about schools’ mo­ti­va­tions


B.C. uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges are charg­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents as much as $50,000 a year for lan­guage and aca­demic path­way cour­ses, even as some crit­ics say their fo­cus on for­eign cash is deny­ing do­mes­tic stu­dents a place in post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion.

But the prov­ince’s schools say they are sim­ply mak­ing sure in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are set up to suc­ceed aca­dem­i­cally and so­cially dur­ing their stud­ies in Canada. Thir­teen ad­min­is­tra­tors rep­re­sent­ing six dif­fer­ent col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in­ter­viewed by The Van­cou­ver Sun for this se­ries in­sisted that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents do not dis­place do­mes­tic stu­dents. The Uni­ver­sity of B.C. has re­peat­edly stated in six of their most re­cent an­nual en­rol­ment re­ports that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents do not com­pete with do­mes­tic stu­dents for provin­cially funded spots.

How­ever, Peter Wylie, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of B.C. Okana­gan, re­cently pre­sented a pa­per at the an­nual B.C. Coun­cil on Ad­mis­sions and Trans­fer eco­nom­ics ar­tic­u­la­tion com­mit­tee meet­ing that ar­gued in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are dis­plac­ing do­mes­tic stu­dents at UBC.

When some­one can’t ac­tu­ally speak English and you’re mak­ing a place for them, mak­ing an en­tire col­lege for them, that is go­ing out of your way to … get more money out of stu­dents who shouldn’t be at UBC.

Wylie said UBC is not in­creas­ing fac­ulty num­bers enough to pro­vide cour­ses that are pop­u­lar with in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, thereby forc­ing do­mes­tic stu­dents out of th­ese cour­ses.

“Un­less the uni­ver­sity puts on a sec­ond sec­tion, do­mes­tic stu­dents will be crowded out of cer­tain cour­ses that are pop­u­lar with in­ter­na­tional stu­dents,” Wylie said in a phone in­ter­view.

He sug­gested UBC al­lows this sit­u­a­tion be­cause in­ter­na­tional stu­dents pro­vide more rev­enue. Those stu­dents pay three to four times the tu­ition Cana­di­ans do.

Ac­cord­ing to UBC se­nior di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional stu­dent ini­tia­tives Damara Klaassen, it was the fear of crowd­ing out do­mes­tic stu­dents that ini­tially prompted the uni­ver­sity to first charge higher in­ter­na­tional fees more than 20 years ago.

The de­ci­sion traces back to the es­tab­lish­ment of UBC’s in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion strat­egy in 1996, Klaassen said.

“They were quite con­cerned about not want­ing to dis­place any do­mes­tic stu­dents. So a de­ci­sion was taken to charge full-cost-re­cov­ery fees to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents,” Klaassen said in an in­ter­view.

The B.C. gov­ern­ment does not pro­vide fund­ing for in­ter­na­tional post-se­condary stu­dents.

UBC provost An­drew Sz­eri said the drive to at­tract in­ter­na­tional stu­dents is about more than rev­enue. Global rank­ings of uni­ver­si­ties like Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion have placed in­creas­ing im­por­tance on cross-bor­der re­search ac­tiv­i­ties, in­ter­na­tional fac­ulty re­cruit­ment, over­seas part­ner­ships and in­ter­na­tional-to-do­mes­tic stu­dent ra­tios. UBC ranks sec­ond among Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties be­hind the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto in the Times’s in­ter­na­tional out­look ranks, and is rated 34th in the world.

Wylie also said the UBC se­nate’s de­ci­sion in 2014 to re­lax the stan­dards for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents — grades can now be com­pa­ra­ble, rather than iden­ti­cal, to those re­quired of do­mes­tic stu­dents — has af­fected the ad­mis­sion pro­ce­dures. Wylie said this cre­ated an eq­uity is­sue, stack­ing the deck against Cana­dian stu­dents who might oth­er­wise suc­ceed aca­dem­i­cally.

“They are say­ing (the qual­i­fi­ca­tions are) com­pa­ra­ble be­cause the in­ter­na­tional stu­dents pass (their cour­ses) and the do­mes­tic stu­dents pass, but there’s a lot of do­mes­tic stu­dents who weren’t let in who could have passed,” Wylie said.

Sz­eri ar­gued that ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems around the world present grades in dif­fer­ent ways, mak­ing them dif­fi­cult to com­pare.

“You can eas­ily pub­lish what is the Cana­dian high school GPA that you see for do­mes­tic stu­dents at UBC. You can’t do that in ad­mis­sions de­ci­sions made about other coun­tries be­cause they have such a wide di­ver­gence of dif­fer­ent grad­ing sys­tems,” he said.

The num­ber of uni­ver­sity and col­lege seats for do­mes­tic stu­dents is set each year by the Min­istry of Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion, Skills and Train­ing. In­ter­na­tional stu­dent en­rol­ment does not al­ter th­ese num­bers, Sz­eri said, and the ad­di­tional tu­ition rev­enue pro­vides UBC with more re­sources for teach­ing staff.

Lena Rax­ter, an Amer­i­can in­ter­na­tional stu­dent, re­cently grad­u­ated from UBC with a B.Sc. in land and food sys­tems. Although her high school grades ex­ceeded the GPA ad­mis­sions re­quire­ments, she strug­gled in her first year of classes.

“The level of dif­fi­culty in the United States is lower than the level of dif­fi­culty in Canada,” she said, speak­ing in a phone in­ter­view from Raleigh, N.C.

Although U.S. high schools use GPA to mea­sure per­for­mance, Rax­ter said the types of aca­demic prepa­ra­tion in th­ese schools vary greatly from state to state.


In­ter­na­tional stu­dents com­monly face a num­ber of dif­fi­cul­ties, both aca­demic and non-aca­demic, in ad­just­ing to uni­ver­sity life while pur­su­ing stud­ies in a sec­ond lan­guage or a new cul­ture. Some say this is es­pe­cially true for stu­dents at the col­lege level in B.C.

Tracy Ho, a mem­ber­ship out­reach co-or­di­na­tor for the Dou­glas Col­lege Stu­dents’ Union, said the sup­port ser­vices pro­vided by Dou­glas have not kept up with the huge in­flux of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

“Even the ba­sic things like aca­demic ad­vis­ing and help­ing the stu­dents, that is just squeak­ing by,” she said.

Prabhjot Hun­dal, an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent at Dou­glas Col­lege, said seg­re­ga­tion be­tween do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents is a com­mon is­sue.

“When I started, I wanted to make friends, but then I didn’t like the way do­mes­tic stu­dents stayed in one cor­ner while the in­ter­na­tional stu­dents stayed in an­other,” Hun­dal said. “To­ward the sec­ond or third year, the stu­dents started to in­ter­act more.”

An emailed re­sponse from Dou­glas Col­lege em­pha­sized the col­lege’s rep­u­ta­tion in in­ter­na­tional pro­gram­ming, say­ing it had re­ceived “an award of ex­cel­lence in in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion from Col­leges and In­sti­tutes Canada in 2011, and a sil­ver medal in in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion from (the) World Fed­er­a­tion of Col­leges and Polytech­nics in 2014.”

Si­mon Fraser Uni­ver­sity and UBC have each in­vested sig­nif­i­cant money in path­way pro­grams to help stu­dents.

Christa Ovenell, col­lege di­rec­tor and prin­ci­pal of SFU’s path­way pro­gram, Fraser In­ter­na­tional Col­lege, be­lieves th­ese pro­grams of­fer an im­por­tant com­po­nent of ex­pe­ri­en­tial ed­u­ca­tion that is of­ten over­looked. She said in­ter­na­tional stu­dents of­ten strug­gle to ad­just to their stud­ies and life in a new cul­ture.

“The com­mit­ment we have to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents is to make their whole ex­pe­ri­ence a good one, a sound one, a solid one, a safe one,” Ovenell said in a phone in­ter­view.

Tu­ition for Fraser In­ter­na­tional Col­lege’s uni­ver­sity trans­fer pro­gram is $24,360 for one year.

Path­way pro­grams have drawn fire from both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, who say that the pro­grams are de­signed to make more money from stu­dents.

Van­tage One is a one-year tran­si­tional pro­gram de­signed for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents ac­cepted to UBC. UBC spent $127 mil­lion for the con­struc­tion of Van­tage Col­lege, which houses the pro­gram, in 2014. It in­cor­po­rates pro­gram­ming that teaches ap­plied English rel­e­vant to each stu­dent’s aca­demic field. The one-year pro­gram func­tions as a tran­si­tion from high school to the sec­ond year of an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree. Stu­dents who com­plete their year at Van­tage move on to their sec­ond year at UBC with­out need­ing to reap­ply. Tu­ition fees for this pro­gram run up to $50,189 for the en­gi­neer­ing and sci­ence stream — roughly $15,000 more than in­ter­na­tional stu­dents typ­i­cally pay for the same course at UBC.

Van­tage’s web­site de­scribes the pro­gram as be­ing best suited for “aca­dem­i­cally strong in­ter­na­tional stu­dents whose English­language pro­fi­ciency does not yet meet the re­quire­ments for di­rect en­try” to UBC.

Ac­cord­ing to UBC’s most re­cent bud­get, Van­tage Col­lege is pro­jected to bring in $14 mil­lion in rev­enue this year.

“When some­one can’t ac­tu­ally speak English and you’re mak­ing a place for them, mak­ing an en­tire col­lege for them, that is go­ing out of your way to try to get more money out of stu­dents who shouldn’t be at UBC,” Rax­ter, the U.S. stu­dent, said.

Joanne Fox, prin­ci­pal of Van­tage Col­lege, said that ad­mis­sions re­quire­ments for Van­tage are no dif­fer­ent than those of other English-speak­ing stu­dents, other than al­low­ing stu­dents en­try with a score on the In­ter­na­tional English Lan­guage Test­ing Sys­tem of 5.5. The IELTS test ranks stu­dents on a scale of one to nine, with eight or higher con­sid­ered flu­ent. In­ter­na­tional stu­dents are oth­er­wise re­quired to have an IELTS score of 6.5 to gain ad­mis­sion to UBC. A stu­dent with a score of 5.5 can of­ten speak flu­ently about sim­ple sub­jects, but might have dif­fi­culty para­phras­ing un­fa­mil­iar top­ics.

Fox said that seven per cent of tu­ition paid by Van­tage’s 350 stu­dents goes to­ward bur­saries and schol­ar­ships.

“Last year, that was over 60 stu­dents, so one in six stu­dents got some form of en­trance award,” she said.

Col­lege-level in­sti­tu­tions like Dou­glas Col­lege and Lan­gara Col­lege also mar­ket them­selves as path­way in­sti­tu­tions for uni­ver­si­ties such as UBC or SFU. Both of­fer English-lan­guage pro­gram­ming, such as Lan­gara’s LEAP pro­gram, which costs $5,976 per term.


The high price of path­way pro­grams, cou­pled with in­creas­ing rises in tu­ition costs, has drawn grow­ing crit­i­cism from in­ter­na­tional stu­dents at both the col­lege and uni­ver­sity level.

Hun­dal, an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive with the Dou­glas Stu­dents’ Union, said in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are fac­ing a 9.5 per cent in­crease in their tu­ition fees for the com­ing se­mes­ter.

“It is not fair at all be­cause do­mes­tic stu­dents have a cap at two per cent,” she said in a phone in­ter­view, re­fer­ring to the limit set by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment on do­mes­tic tu­ition in­creases.

Hun­dal ac­knowl­edged that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, whose tu­ition is not sub­si­dized by tax dol­lars, should pay higher fees, but said tu­ition fee in­creases for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents should have a cap just like do­mes­tic stu­dents.

“There is no such cap for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, so you can in­crease it how­ever you want,” Hun­dal said.

Av­er­age in­ter­na­tional tu­ition at Dou­glas has risen by 15 per cent since 2011, but still “aligns with other post-se­condary in­sti­tu­tions in the re­gion,” ac­cord­ing to an emailed state­ment from the col­lege.

SFU and UBC in­creased their in­ter­na­tional tu­ition by al­most 40 per cent be­tween 2011 and 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion.


In­ter­na­tional stu­dents Shree­tika Singh, left, from Nepal, and Kosar Mo­ham­madis­pour An­vari, from Iran, study at Or­chard Com­mons at Van­tage Col­lege at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia last week. The col­lege’s pro­grams help stu­dents brush up on English be­fore en­ter­ing reg­u­lar study.


Prabhjot Hun­dal of the Dou­glas Col­lege Stu­dents’ Union says a 9.5 per cent hike in tu­ition for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents is “not fair at all.”

Joanne Fox, the prin­ci­pal of Van­tage Col­lege, a path­way in­sti­tu­tion run by UBC, says the school’s in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are sub­ject to the same stan­dards as English-speak­ing stu­dents, ex­cept for lan­guage pro­fi­ciency.


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