Commentary | Editorial: It’s time to care about international fees

Last week, Concordia’s Board of Governors succeeded in raising annual undergraduate international tuition by $1,000, but only after the Concordia Student Union (CSU) had exhausted all of its legal and political options in an attempt to halt the increase. The CSU’s response was so strong, in fact, that it was able to delay the increase for a nearly a full year.

But when McGill’s Board of Governors pushed through similar increases for its international students, nobody noticed. This academic year, foreign undergrads in the faculties of Science, Engineering, Law, and Managment are facing increases of $1,200 in base tuition – and last year, international tuition in every faculty except Management increased by more than $1,000 per year. Or, think of it this way: since 2006, the annual cost of a B.Sc. degree for international students has jumped $3,500.

Yet despite these increases, there has been little to no mobilization around the issue. We’re distressed by the lack of attention being paid to the increases, and we hope that international students take a cue from their in-province counterparts, who led a high profile fight against the de-freeze in their tuition rates just last year.

More concerning is the University’s quest to enroll these high paying students under the auspices of Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s charge to recruit the best and the brightest from around the world. In a March speech before the Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal, Munroe-Blum pointed to Australia’s practice of charging international undergraduates market-based tuition fees to finance graduate scholarships as a model that “Quebec would do well to consider.” But this would simply deter international students from attending McGill and further undermine students’ right to accessible post-secondary education.

Foreign undergrads shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for improving McGill’s international reputation, nor for its ability to attract graduate students, especially as the University continues to downgrade the undergraduate experience. After all, international students are here for the same reason as the rest of McGill’s students – to, you know, learn.

We’re also curious what market Munroe-Blum is referring to. Is it Canada’s, or is it that of our nearest high-paying neighbours to the south? After all, skyrocketing costs at U.S. colleges and universities have left families scrambling to cover truly outrageous tuition fees, which often run at more than $40,000 per year. No wonder many U.S. citizens perceive McGill’s international rates to be relatively reasonable – though only in a perverse sense of the word.

These drastic hikes are just one part of the University’s goals to produce minds for a global economy – one where education, like bananas or coffee, is subject to market forces of supply and demand. Perhaps our principal should remember the last three letters of her title and quit raising tuition. Further, members of the student movement should more actively engage those on the foreign end of McGill’s tiered fee structure.