More than Cash: Thoughts on the International Differential Fee | By Dongwoo Kim

Last week, the Gateway reported that the University of Alberta administration will be raising the international differential fee (IDF), which is essentially going around the provincial government’s freeze on tuition increase. As an international student who has been paying approximately $2,000 for each course during the last four years, I was frustrated. The increase was not drastic; it is not a shocking amount. It was predicted too, since accessibility –for domestic students– has become an issue that the University administration has been more politically cautious of since last year.

As always, these are complex issues and we cannot jump to conclusions. Further, it is hard to advocate for accessibility for foreign students in a publicly funded institution during a time of financial difficulties. Again, this is not a huge increase that will severely limit the accessibility of education for international students. It has been this expensive for a long time, and the people who had planned to come will come. However, I believe that it is imperative that we critically think about the University administration’s attitude towards “internationalization” and the institutional marginalization of international students, which altogether raise questions about this University’s commitment to uplift the “whole” people.

I do not think that post-secondary education is a right. It is a privilege that should only be extended to the individuals who are committed to pursuing their academic passions. Furthermore, the cost of education for most public universities is subsidized, which means that not everyone is paying the actual cost of their education. Thus, perhaps one could say that it is fair and justifiable for the University administration to charge the International Differential Fee (IDF), which approximately triples international students’ tuition fee in comparison to that of the domestic counterparts. International students’ parents, after all, have not paid taxes in Canada; Albertans’ money should benefit Albertans, right?

However, I find the IDF and its recent increase problematic, for it creates an institutional divide between international and domestic students that raise questions about this University’s integrity. Universities are the bastions of intellectualism in our society. The purpose of the University is to foster critical thinking, creativity, and intellectualism, unhindered by external influences. To stand by this mandate is the institutional integrity that makes Universities unique institutions in our society.

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  • Carl Amrhein

    The University of British Columbia $22,622
    University of Toronto $28,409
    McGill University $28,383

    University of Alberta  $18,318…

    • Dongwoo

      Thank you for commenting Dr. Amrhein. Here are my stats:

      The University of British Columbia: 45th
      University of Toronto: 18th
      McGill University: 19th

      University of Alberta: 108th

      (Source: QS World University Ranking 2012-2013)

      These rankings are subjective, but reflect the int’l reputation abroad. Shouldn’t we make education more accessible to give an incentive for students who would otherwise go to the universities listed above?

      I love this University and am happy/proud to be here. I do not think that I can put a dollar figure to everything I learned and experienced here–it’s that valuable to me. However, I think speaking up when something seems to be wrong is one of the things I can do to contribute.

    • R. H.

      May I assume that you are Dr. Carl G. Amrhein, Provost and Vice President (Academic) at the University of Alberta? Also, should we regard this comment as official statement from the University on this matter? 😉

      • Anonymous

        Don’t be daft, there’s almost no chance that the real Carl Amrhein is posting on a student website.

        • Colten

          I’m pretty sure that it is Carl.
          Just because he is the Provost doesn’t mean that he can’t read. Also, a lot of UofA administrators read The Wanderer and the Gateway.

  • Colten

    I do not believe that this article is addressing comparisons in absolute tuition dollar figures or the QS World University Rankings. The theme of Dongwoo’s article is purely questioning whether the increase to the international student differential was made appropriately.

    Also, looking at discrepancies in absolute tuition dollar figures does not provide enough detail to justify tuition increases. I prefer to look at data such as comparing student contribution through tuition/fees to overall operating budgets and factoring in the percentage of the operating budget supported by the provincial base grant (The UofA has a proportionally large base grant/operating budget ratio in comparison our peer institutions). Other factors including quality of education, post- graduation employment rates, faculty/student ratios, student experience, etc. also have a role to play when determining the value of enrolment at a particular institution. I personally do not believe that listing international tuition amounts from other premier Canadian post-secondary institutions proves a strong argument for an increase to the international student tuition differential.

    Just my two cents. No offence intended.

  • Darren

    I think your points are fair and well made. They also apply equally outside of Alberta. We work in the field of helping international students through our Campus Servus and ScholarFX services and often work alongside educational institutions. It is dnot uncommon to listen as they talk about attracting more international students (for the fee differential) and at the same time make very few efforts to improve or even equalize the support services to international students in Canada. Now there are exceptions but the majority seem to regard attracting international students to their schools as a fix for the budget, expense and demographic issues that they face. No more coffee for me today.