SSMU VP External Myriam Zaidi said the SSMU executive first started talking with the McGill administration about the possible deregulation of international student fees the day after Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s Town Hall last November.
At the meeting, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, SSMU President Zach Newburgh, VP University Affairs Joshua Abaki, Munroe-Blum, and Zaidi agreed to work together towards lobbying the provincial government on several points.
According to Zaidi, a point was informally raised, regarding the deregulation of international student fees. Zaidi said the executives had been asked whether they thought all the money international students paid to the University should stay in the University.
“We were like, ‘Well, it sounds nice, but we haven’t examined the situation, so we won’t agree on that.’ But they really insisted that we agree on it,” said Zaidi. “When they sent us a summary of the meeting, they said that we’d agreed on it, which wasn’t true.”
International students in Quebec are required to pay a supplemental fee on top of the base Quebec tuition fee. The province justifies this by saying that international students, unlike domestic students, won’t repay the rest of the cost of their education in taxes the rest of their life. Ninety-two per cent of this additional fee goes to the Quebec government, which then redistributes the funds among all Quebec universities based on each university’s overall enrolment.
“I understood that’s what they meant by [that],” said Zaidi. “They meant they wanted the complete deregulation of all international tuition, because that’s the only way all the money can stay in the University.”
“I think that’s what they wanted us to indirectly agree on – the complete deregulation of all international students’ programs,” she added.
It was in light of this meeting that SSMU has released a research report on unregulated fees for international students, comparing current deregulation trends in Quebec with the past effects of deregulation in other provinces.
SSMU’s research report
The report, which raises concerns of the long-term effects of deregulation and the lack of student consultation regarding the amount of increases, comes at a time when universities across Quebec are restructuring their tuition models in anticipation of next year’s provincial budget. The budget will be released next week and is expected to prescribe further tuition increases.
SSMU Researcher and Political Attache Philippe Lapointe wrote SSMU’s report in collaboration with Abaki and Zaidi.
“There are two uses for this research,” said Zaidi. “One internally, in order to help [Abaki] and Senators in their lobbying efforts for international students.”
Zaidi said the other reason was to lobby the Quebec Students Roundtable (QSR) to represent the interests of international students more in their negotiations with the provincial government.
“In terms of external affairs, [Abaki] and I came to the conclusion that the [QSR] should be lobbying for international students and out-of-province students,” said Zaidi. “It was pretty straightforward and non-negotiable; that if the [QSR] wants to be representative of SSMU it should be taken into consideration lobbying for international students.”
Deregulating international fees
In 2008, the Quebec government voted to deregulate international supplemental fees in six programs: applied sciences, mathematics, engineering, computer science, management, and law. Every year since, the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) has reduced its subsidies and revenue collection from these programs by 20 per cent. In 2014, all revenue from international supplemental fees in those programs will remain in the University.
According to the report, MELS’s intake from international student fees at McGill would have been $40 million in 2008-09, but McGill would have received just $798,786 of these province-wide supplemental fees.
Another issue involves the bi-lateral agreements Quebec holds with Francophone nations. Such agreements exempt international students from Francophone countries from paying supplemental fees.
“McGill, an Anglophone university, has a significantly higher population of international students who come from countries which do not have agreements with the Quebec government,” reads the report.
McGill receives 25 per cent of all Quebec’s international students, and contributes 41 per cent of all supplemental fees in the province.
“There are gaping inequalities between supplemental fee payments and supplemental fee redistribution,” says the report. “Large universities with few international students benefit more from supplemental fees than do universities with a large international cohort such as McGill.”
Zaidi says the University has been arguing that money students pay shouldn’t go to other universities, and that were the money to stay in McGill, it would improve the quality of education at the University.
“The question is: to what extent does it matter that some millions of dollars are taken and redistributed to all other universities for students? Or is it more important for them to not have to go through what Law students have to go through, for example, which is a $4,000 increase between May and September each year,” said Zaidi.
“We’ve seen the priorities of the administration. The priority is not to reduce class sizes or to give more services to students. Their priorities are graduate research, research in general, and infrastructure…so in the end, even if it was deregulated and international students would buy into the rhetoric that basically the money you’ll be paying to McGill will be staying in McGill, and then that’s just going to increase your experience as a whole, it is not true.”
Where could deregulation leave students?
Concordia has been experiencing similar increases in international fees. Roddy Doucet, Advocacy Manager for the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, said Concordia has been raising international fees as much as MELS will allow.
“We’ve also dealt with a tuition fee, ‘restructuring’ we call it, where students pay more up front based on a per-credit basis. So we’ve had different issues,” said Doucet.
However, Concordia’s senate recently voted to approve a $3-million fund allocation to tuition waivers for international students. The waivers, spread out over the next three years, would cover tuition costs for 35 new graduate students. According to Doucet, these waivers won’t relieve financial stress on current graduate students, however.
“They’re going to be used as recruitment tools for international students,” said Doucet. “As a concern I guess what we have is…6,000 current graduate students that this money is not going to help at all, who are facing substantial tuition concerns, and, due to the tuition fee restructuring last year, substantially higher tuition bills than they would have previously.”
Of the 6,000 graduate students at Concordia, Doucet said that about a third were international students.
“So to add seventy of them, that’s a little bit over 3 per cent that would be on tuition waiver,” said Doucet. “That means that 97 per cent are paying full international, and rising, tuition.”
Indeed, one of the SSMU reports main concerns is that Quebec universities can decide amongst themselves what the supplemental fee is each year.
“First of all there is no student that sits on the [Consultative Committee for Education on Financial Accessibility] that decides how much the increase should be for deregulated tuition,” said Zaidi. “So we still don’t have a say on how much they should increase every summer.”
Ontario began deregulating its international student fees in 1997, and every program is now completely deregulated. The report cites the example of the University of Toronto’s Executive MBA program as an example of the growth in international student fees Quebec could witness. According to the report, in 2010 international students in the program paid $89,000 in tuition and supplemental fees.