Student groups at Alberta's two largest universities are calling on the provincial government to introduce regulations on tuition fees paid by international students.
Tuition fees for international students at the University of Calgary increased by 10 per cent in May, affecting about 6,000 students.
At the University of Alberta, international student tuition will rise by six per cent starting in the 2023-24 academic year. The hike is projected to impact about 4,100 new international students enrolling that year and will add about $10,000 to most art and science degrees.
Statistics Canada reported last fall that, on average, international undergraduate students in Alberta paid about $28,000 a year in tuition, compared to $6,600 for their Canadian counterparts.
Nationally, Alberta ranks fourth highest in tuition fees charged to international undergraduate students, behind Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, which charges an average of $42,000 per student. The national average is about $34,000.
Dhir Bid, president of the U of A International Students' Association, said a failure to regulate tuition for international students could have far-reaching effects.
"If universities have the free will to increase tuition as they like, it's going to impact how many international students come to not just the university, but even to Alberta, to Canada. And that's going to affect the economy," Bid said in an interview.
The U of C Students' Union is also calling for regulation of tuition for international students.
"Tuition for all students has increased tremendously, with no similar increase in quality. International students are bearing the brunt of these increases," president Nicole Schmidt said in a statement.
"It's time for the government of Alberta to protect international students from the sharp increases they've endured over the last few years."
Regulation not contemplated, province says
Regulation of tuition fees for international students is not under consideration, a government spokesperson told CBC News.
"While there is no cap, tuition amounts must be guaranteed for the program's standard duration," Sam Blackett, press secretary to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, said in a statement.
"The ministry expects public institutions to set international student tuition at a cost-recovery level or above, as international students and their families have not contributed substantially to funding post-secondary education through years of taxation."
In 2020, the U of A implemented a guaranteed fee tuition model, in which international students are guaranteed that the total cost of their program will be in place for the typical time required to complete it, plus one extra year.
Bid said while the approach looks appealing in theory, each new cohort could see tuition increases.
Bid added that there isn't adequate consultation about and support for international students with regard to tuition hikes.
International students don't have access to provincial student aid but can access scholarships, grants or bursaries.
The U of A's International Students' Association says 7.55 per cent of international students' tuition goes to bursaries and scholarships. The university offers scholarships ranging in value from $5,000 to $120,000 per year.
Bid said while that may help ease the financial burden for some students, it doesn't alleviate financial challenges for the majority of international students. There are currently about 7,200 international students at the U of A.
The U of A said tuition paid by international students helps pay for operating costs such as course materials, lab spaces, scholarships, bursaries and staff salaries.
The U of C said its tuition increase is "designed to align tuition rates more closely with our U15 [Canadian research universities] peers" and that it is intended to support lower-income students by reinvesting a portion of new revenue in needs-based student support.
At the U of A, the students' union says it is important to show solidarity with the institution's international community.
"International students face twice the rate of food insecurity compared to domestic students," president Abner Monterio said.
"Also, the amount of harassment or discrimination in the classroom, which results in a lot of international students needing mental health supports and culturally appropriate mental health supports that aren't always available on our campus."
Bid said international students are part of the building blocks of the economy.
"Many are doing part-time jobs. Once they graduate, they're doing a full-time job here," he said.
"They're already trying to fight the system ... but the situation right now doesn't support international students."