There is a myth that international students are generally rich and well-off, because they can afford triple the school fees local students pay. We hope to crush that myth, with sources in our story that provide a completely new perspective on how international students actually spend money. Some have a hard time trying to balance the books with low monthly budgets.
American blues, jazz and gospel vocalist Ethel Waters once said, “All my life I’ve been prejudiced against wealthy people.”
Prejudice against blacks, women, Muslims, homosexuals is looked upon with contempt and disfavor. However, stereotyping and singling out people with a wealthy background would be thought of as being rational.
Is it really rational to think that some people don’t deserve their money as much as we do?
It is often assumed that wealthy people inherit their money and therefore don’t deserve it. In reality, a lot of upper-class people worked hard through education and wise saving plans.
The same goes for the assumption that a lot of international students are well off on post-secondary campuses across Toronto.
“Transfer students have to pay more fees so I guess yes, they are richer than local students,” said Meshal Fatima, a fourth year Concurrent Teacher Education Program student at University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) who grew up in Toronto.
Like Fatima, many local students find themselves subconsciously judging international students, assuming they would come from a wealthy family background and are generally guaranteed that their tuition fees will be paid (no part-time jobs required).
Through research done for this article, the myth of foreign students being wealthier is a misconception.
Take for example,Lim Jae Hee, an international student from Korea who is now taking Business English courses at the International Language Academy of Canada, comes from an average-income family. He complained about the tuition fees being unreasonably high for international students.
“Most international students like me are not eligible for support from the government,” he said.
Even though his parents are now paying for his tuition fees, he insists on paying them back by working when he returns to Korea after his yearlong program in Toronto.
He stays with a homestay family where he pays $750 a month. This includes everything from laundry, Internet to three meals a day.
Another international student Natalie Lo, is a third year Management student at UTSC from Hong Kong.
“My family is not really rich,” she said. “I’m not like some other international students I know who could afford to buy an apartment here to do investment. I don’t have a car, and I chose the place I am living in now because it is so close to school, I don’t need to pay for transportation fees. I also don’t have brand name clothes or accessories like some others.”
She has applied for a student-working permit in Canada so that she could find a part-time job to support her daily expenses and help pay a part of tuition.
Last year she was working illegally under minimum wage at a Chinese mall just to try to afford extra expenses apart from school fees. She is now looking at getting a legal job as a teller at a bank, which would also be beneficial for her future career in Management, she said.
“My parents will pay for my school fees, but I still have other expenses,” she said. “ I don’t want them to have a larger burden. Sometimes I just help out at seminars and earn $6/$8 an hour. Being an invigilator at exams also helps me earn $20 per hour. I wish I was smarter so I could apply to be a teaching assistant and earn $40 per hour, but I am not smart enough.”
She lives in a room on the ground floor of a house opposite to UTSC. Sharing the house with five other girls, she pays only $450 a month, which includes electricity, gas, water and Internet.
“Compared to other students, I live in a much cheaper residence,” she said. “Campus residence costs $900 a month, and it does not include laundry.”
She uses the cheapest phone plan she could get at $30 a month. It only allows for 100 minutes a month and does not have unlimited text messaging. However, when Lo compared her plan in Toronto to what she had in Hong Kong: $10 a month for unlimited minutes and data plan, she is not willing to pay more than $30 a month even when she is not satisfied with the services she is getting.
She does not always go shopping. $20 is the maximum she spends a month on clothing, accessories and entertainment.
Lo even tries to minimize her spending on groceries.
“I remember in first year, I always went to events where I could grab pizza or any other kinds of free food,” she said. “Food on campus is really expensive.”
She says it is not fair how international students pay triple what local students pay for tuition when they both get the same education.
“There is a huge misconception when it comes to this issue,” he said. “Universities don’t make much out of international students. Provinces provide funding to universities; this covers the cost of two thirds of tuition fees for domestic students. Hence Canadian students pay only a third of their tuition and the provincial government pays the remaining two thirds. However, the fees for international students have not been paid for, they have to pay the same amount at the full rate.”
Despite the fact that international students pay triple what local students pay, Wright said that it can’t be generalized that international students are richer.
“I’ve met a lot of different students. Some have nothing and surf on people’s couches for the whole period of their university education,” he said. “On the flip side, some students immediately bought condos at Queens Quay.”
Even though Wright said that international students don’t bring in extra profits for universities, he did say that these students still add value onto the university by increasing the cultural diversity on campus.
“York is hoping to increase the number of international students,” he said. “We found out that among our local students, there are 85 different first languages being spoken on campus, however, when we include international stutdents, there are 95 different languages being spoken. Hence it is more diverse if we have a large population of international students.”
When asked the question of whether it is fair for domestic students to pay less because they are local citizens, Wright answered that it is only fair that those who pay income taxes get subsidized.
Wright might insist that universities do not treat international students as cash cows, but even an article in the Toronto Star pointed out that a new residence built by the University of Toronto is used to house “wealthy foreign students who flock to the prestigious school.”
Ludy Fromowitz, the University of Toronto’s assistant vice president of student life, was quoted in the Toronto Star’s article “U of T leasing land for new student residence” as saying: “International students will come to U of T because of the status of the university, the research intensity.”
Even though the main reason for higher tuition fees for international students is because of a lack of government funding, universities can still find other ways to cash in on the large pool of ‘wealthy’ international students.
Residences, extra medical and dental insurance and campus meal plans can all be targeted at the consumer group of foreign students, who generally do not have families in Canada they could live with, a government health plan they could follow or a car to drive to get to food places outside of campus.
When stereotyping occurs, there is rarely a situation where there are no victims being affected. Universities have to realize that there are international students trying hard to make ends meet out there.
Education was never meant to be for the privileged.