The federal government announced it will give a $20 million push in order to double the number of international students attending Canadian universities by 2022. The reasons are mainly economic. The international students would generate a $10 billion thrust to the domestic economy each year and would also create thousands of jobs.

According to The Star, the “International Trade Minister, Ed Fast, says the government hopes a new program will see more than 450,000 international researchers and students enrolled at Canadian universities by 2022.

“The aim is to attract students from six key countries — China, Brazil, India, Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam.”

What is the Harper administration attempting to achieve? It seems to me that encouraging the entrance of international students for mainly economic reasons justifies the view that the federal government is treating them like cash cows.

The Feds argue the increase in international students numbers would benefit the economy as a whole due to the higher tuition fees they pay.

Another important argument put forth by the government is the fact that by attracting students from these particular parts of the world, trade and diplomacy would be enhanced. This would not only benefit the domestic economy, but also Canada’s links to the rest of the world. This seems like an extremely ethnocentric policy action.

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Why do international students pay more fees, anyway? TCSA International Student Commissioner Boykin Smith expressed that the answer lies in underfunding.

“Currently, international students pay close to three times the amount of domestic students in tuition fees, and the most prevailing factor is underfunding from the provincial and federal governments.

“Besides underfunding, there are other factors such as UHIP [as opposed to being covered under OHIP],” Smith reported.

He added, “On the other hand, others may think international students come from affluent families, do not pay Canadian taxes, and that their special services and requirement efforts are expensive. But I believe this is not the case because our high fees are not a clear justification for such stigmatized factors.

“International students do pay taxes and offer a great contribution to the Canadian economy, yet it is unfortunate that we must carry the burden of paying high-differentiated tuition fees for the same education as our domestic peers.”

It is often the argument that international students do not contribute to the economy and therefore do not merit the subsidized education. However, this is clearly not the case. By following this new policy, the Feds seem to recognize the important economic impact that international students have on the domestic economy.

But the question remains: is charging international students three times the amount that domestic students pay for tuition justified?

Other countries deal with international students in similar ways. The BBC published an article on international students in the UK. The newspaper states that a spokeswoman for the umbrella body, Universities UK, rejected any suggestion that UK universities regard international students as cash cows:

“It is worth remembering that international student fees are not regulated, as is the case with home fees. UK universities compete in a global market for international students and their tuition fees reflect this.”

Again, there is a predominant economic argument for attracting students and justifying the higher tuition fees. The Feds would not only be exploiting international students, but also drawing them from countries where skillful labour is needed. The Harper government intends to bring the best and brightest from around the world to study in Canada. This is also a process known as “brain drain.”

Most of the six key countries from which the government hopes to draw students are in need of highly skilled professionals. By attracting bright students from around the world and offering incentives for them to stay in Canada, the Feds are undermining the capacity of human capital building in those countries. Some would argue that this is an imperialistic attitude.

Third-year political studies and forensic science major at Trent, Anya Nikolaeva, argues that her main concern is life after graduation.

“How do I know that I am wanted here if I’m not automatically guaranteed a good immigration status, such as PR cards and Canadian citizenship, which are required for any law related jobs, for
instance?

“If the government is to attract more international students who have the intention to stay, they should make it more accessible for them to reach the same opportunities as domestic students,” Nikolaeva suggested.

“So, in a way, if the government is to pursue this policy, it will mean a lot more than just pumping money into the economy.”

International students are not simply cash cows. They put different perspectives and distinct ways of life onto the table, which enhance our critical thinking in the classroom. Putting economic arguments aside, international students improve the quality of education for all. Both domestic and international students benefit enormously from interacting with each other. However, the problem seems to be that this beneficial relationship is hard to be accounted for in strictly economic terms.

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Photo from the Arthur Archives: Photo by Desiree Kretschmar. Taken October 19, 2007. Over 100 students gathered on the Bata Podium to show solidarity with two of Trent’s unions: CUPE 3909 and OPSEU 365.