Student group calls for provincial regulation of international student fees 

Sea to Sky School District says that it already self regulates

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF SQUAMISH CHIEF
  • photo courtesy of Squamish Chief

Fearing price gouging, the B.C. Federation of Students is calling for provincial regulation of international student fees. But the Sea to Sky local school district said that the current system works just fine.

"The lack of any regulation on international tuition fee increases means that these user fees may go up by any amount in any given year," said the student federation in a recent report.

"Accordingly, an international student ... has no ability to properly budget for the cost of their degree when they move to B.C. to begin their studies."

However, an official from the Sea to Sky School District said that school districts throughout the province share best practices to prevent wild price fluctuations for elementary and high school education.

"We try and stay in the same range across B.C.," said Faizel Rawji, head of international education.

Rawji added that there is no hard cap on fee hikes, but school districts that are part of the International Public School Education Association make sure prices don't jump wildly between regions.

"We're not regulated, but we kind of regulate ourselves to keep average," he Rawji.

When looking at the yearly fees of the Sea to Sky and its neighbouring school districts, this appears to be true.

In the Sea to Sky, international students pay roughly $26,600 per year-which includes tuition, accommodation and other fees-after adding up figures posted online by The Canadian Association of Public Schools International.

There are variations of this number, depending on whether the student is placed in Squamish, Whistler or Pemberton due to differing housing demands, Rawji said.

Neighbouring school districts charge similar annual amounts.

West Vancouver bills its international students $25,750; North Vancouver asks for $26,450; and Vancouver charges $25,825.

The chairperson of the B.C. Federation of Students Aran Armutlu said it's good that schools are trying to self-regulate, but this often falls short of the mark.

"We would sort of consider all those sorts of things just like Band-Aid solutions, or falling a little short of what actually could be (a) more robust sort of regulation," said Armutlu.

"They ultimately are responsible for their institutions. And so that sort of provincial scale standardization or regulation doesn't really exist, and there's no sort of accountability as a province."

Instead, Armutlu said the federation would like to see the provincial government amend the tuition fee limit policy to enforce caps when raising international student tuition fees.

"That would create that fairness and consistency and predictability for international student tuition fees," Armutlu said.

For instance, tuition isn't allowed to increase for domestic post-secondary students by more than two per cent a year.

Armutlu said implementing a similar cap for international students would be a good move.

He also added that the federation isn't arguing against adding premiums to international student fees-current prices already reflect that.

What the federation is advocating for, he said, is stability and fairness governing fee increases.

Armutlu also said that if international students feel they are being gouged, they will leave B.C. and spend their money elsewhere, which would have economic consequences locally.

The B.C. government reported in 2015 that international students spent $3.5 billion that year in the province.

The Sea to Sky School District, which includes Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, has roughly 200 international students, by Rawji's count.

This would suggest that international students could be collectively paying up to about $5.32 million in fees a year, though this number is likely lower because not all students stay a full year.

Rawji said the gross profit made from those students is typically between five and 10 per cent.

He said tuition hasn't been raised in the last two years and there won't be any increases for the 2019 to 2020 school year.

"The raise would be no more than $500 when and if we raise," Rawji said, with respect to tuition.

However, there may be further increases to homestay and other fees as the cost of living rises.

No profit is made on those expenses, he said.

"That's an in-and-out," he said. "Whatever we're collecting, we're paying out."

As of 2015, the cost for tuition alone has been $13,000. From 2011 to 2015, the price was $12,000.

According to preliminary budget figures, the school district has set aside about $1.39 million for international student education to cover personnel and administration costs this upcoming school year.

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