Sudbury’s Laurentian University will freeze its tuition fees for international students in a bid to compete with other Ontario universities, which rely on the money international students bring in.
“We feel that at this time, we don’t want to increase international fees to sort of help engage international students to come to campus, to come to Laurentian,” said Michel Piché, Laurentian’s vice-president of finance, during a board of governors meeting on June 24.
While international students only make up 8.6 per cent of Laurentian’s student body, Piché said they are projected to bring in 22.5 per cent of total tuition revenues in the 2022-2023 school year.
The province reduced tuition for domestic students by 10 per cent in the 2019-2020 academic year, and those fees have been frozen since then.
But universities can charge international students whatever they want.
Serge Demers, Laurentian’s registrar and associate vice-president of students, said the university generally charges international students around the Ontario average for their tuition.
For an international undergraduate student, that means they pay $26,000 per year, on average. International graduate students pay an average of $24,000 for the academic year.
In September 2020 Laurentian had 597 international students. That dropped to 563 students in 2021.
In April 2021, the university declared it was insolvent and cut 69 academic programs. Almost 200 faculty and staff members lost their jobs.
As Laurentian transitions out of creditor protection, Demers said international students will play an important part ensuring the university’s financial health – as they do at all Ontario universities.
“Historically, Laurentian has not had a large number of or a large proportion of international students on campus, when we compare with others in the sector,” Demers said.
“So I think that’s certainly somewhere where we can grow the number of international students that are on our campus.”
In addition to its planned tuition freeze, Laurentian will also ramp up its marketing efforts abroad, Demers said.
He said the university’s key international markets for student recruitment include India, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Nigeria.
For its new strategy, Laurentian will have one or two main contacts in each country who will manage teams of recruitment agents. Their job is to sell a small university located in a city that is largely unknown in other countries.
“In years past, we would go to a recruitment fair for undergraduate students in Toronto, and never mind on the international front, but in Toronto people didn’t know where Sudbury was,” Demers said.
But he said one advantage the university has is its close access to nature and wide open green spaces – which are attractive selling points with the right audience.
While Demers said increasing its share of international students is a big priority, the university also wants to maintain a good balance of international and domestic students.
“Everything needs to be done in moderation.,” he said. “So I think that as a campus, you need to figure out what is the optimal distribution of domestic versus international students.”
It’s almost as if for university or post-secondary institutions, international students are a cash cow before human beings.– Camille Duhaime, treasurer, Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario
The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, which advocates on behalf of Ontario college and university students, has argued the province’s post-secondary institutions have become too reliant on high international student tuition fees.
“It’s a particular issue at Laurentian because of the insolvency and everything, but every single post-secondary institution has that same sort of strategy of relying on international students to subsidize the reduction in funding that continues to happen from the province,” said Camille Duhaime, the federation’s treasurer and a recent Laurentian graduate.
The federation has called for more provincial funding for post-secondary education and lower, or even free, tuition for all students.
Duhaime said an over-reliance on international students also makes universities more vulnerable to changes in international politics.
In 2018, for example, Saudi Arabia suspended 16,000 scholarships for students from that country who were studying in Canada. The decision was part of a series of retaliatory moves after Canada’s foreign affairs minister criticized the country over human rights.
The move affected 130 international students at Laurentian.
“There’s a million reasons why we want to have international students here,” Duhaime said.
“And I think that for universities, all of that is almost forgotten. It’s like they’re just a number. It’s almost as if for university or post-secondary institutions, international students are a cash cow before human beings.”