Skyrocketing tuition for international students questioned


As international student enrolment and tuition costs continue to rise exponentially, researchers, students and some university administrators are questioning the system’s sustainability.


A recent analysis by reveals all of Ontario’s 19 universities are becoming increasingly dependent on money from foreign students.

OneClass, a Toronto startup firm founded by recent university graduates, provides “note-sharing” services to university students.

It analyzed 12 years of data from 2006 to 2017, obtained from fee schedules, school records and information from the Council of Ontario Universities and Common University Data Ontario to reach its conclusions.

“I was shocked to see, on average, international students pay about four times more in tuition than domestic students,” said Daniel Je, a content editor at OneClass.

The Queen’s University campus in Kingston, Ont. (Frédéric Pepin/CBC)

The numbers show increased enrolment and a growing reliance on income from the international cohort, according to Je.

If the trend continues, domestic students could be pushed out over the next 10 years to make space for more international students and their money.

At Queen’s University in Kingston, domestic fees increased 26 per cent to $6,580 in 2017, while international tuition rose by 112.27 per cent to $37,490 that same year.

The University of Ottawa and Carleton both increased their international tuition at rates three times higher than domestic fees, to $28,087 at uOttawa in 2017, and to $25,740 at Carleton in 2017. At both schools, domestic tuition hovered at about $6,600.

“This is on the upper end of all the universities we looked at,” said Je.

‘Unfortunate trend’

“I think it’s an unfortunate trend,” said Lily Akagbosu, an international student from Nigeria and president of the Carleton University Students’ Association.

Akagbosu, who is in her final year studying psychology, said not all students coming from abroad are wealthy. Some work several jobs, come on scholarships, or even sell property to get a university education.

And with tuition rates rising so much every year, it’s difficult to plan ahead.

“You come in expecting tuition is a certain amount, but what happens is after a year or two, it’s increased significantly and that’s an amount you didn’t account for,” Akagbosu said.

Right balance

Tom Harris is interim Provost at Queen’s University. (Submitted )

While tuition for Ontario students is regulated, international tuition is not. At Queen’s University, interim Provost Tom Harris said the university makes no apology for competing globally for students.

“Our fees have gone up faster than inflation and that’s not surprising because Queen’s is making big investments in student services, in new facilities and supports for students,” Harris said.

But he noted that universities across North America have to figure out the right balance of rates for those who come from other countries and those from inside the province.

“Taxpayers at some point in time are going to be saying, ‘Do our kids have access to universities which we’re paying taxes for?’ So I think that’s a question all universities are going to have to face,” Harris said.

In a statement, the University of Ottawa said it considers a variety of factors when setting tuition rates, including “ensuring access to higher education, competitiveness, overall financial situation and provincial legislation.”

The university added it’s confident it has struck the right balance.

Carleton University did not respond to CBC’s request for comment.