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Banking on international students

by | Feb 28, 2017 | Education | 0 comments

On Dec. 15, 2016, the MacEwan University Board of Directors approved a 15 per cent increase in international tuition fees over a two-year period.

The now-approved proposition was introduced nearly three months earlier, on Sept. 29, and would see international tuition fees rise by 15 per cent between 2017 and 2019.

According to the Dec. 15 agenda, this move will generate $1.3 million for MacEwan. Approximately $866,667 of this revenue will go to proposed international study funds.

The increase was approved nearly unanimously, with just one vote against it. The approval comes as no surprise to MacEwan Provost and Vice-President Academic John Corlett.

“It’s a good idea,” he says.

Starting in the 2017-2018 academic year, international fees will increase by $1,650 from the current $16,590. Then, during 2018-2019, the previous year’s $18,240 will be increased by another $900.

‘I think to be at the very low end of the price spectrum, in some countries in the world, does send a message that you really don’t have the same quality that other programs do.’

-John Corlett

Corlett says he hopes the revenue from this tuition hike will be used for scholarships and bursaries for incoming international students, as well as for funding for MacEwan students who choose to study internationally.

“In fact, (that) is, for me, the whole story,” he says. By his estimates, Corlett says these funds will become fully available for scholarship use by fall of 2018.

However, the motion is being condemned by Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) President Danika
McConnell, who says “international tuition … is already sitting at an exorbitant amount.”

McConnell acknowledges current legislation does not require students to be consulted on issues of international tuition. She also recognizes that the Board of Directors “did open the doors to discuss international tuition.” However, McConnell raises criticism of what took place during the discussion.

“I had conversations with those who brought forward concerns,” she says, “and the (student) consultation process was very quick, given that we weren’t discussing domestic (tuition) as well.”

She is also wary of making money off of international students, which was another factor in her voting against the motion.

“I would never like to see our students becoming cash cows by any means, and I needed further justification as to why an increase of 10 per cent within an eight-month gap would be a benefit,” she says. “It seems like too far of a jump.

“Perhaps my thoughts would have been different if it was incremental, but it just was far too drastic, and I saw way more downfalls than I did see gain.”

Corlett acknowledges concerns like those raised by McConnell, but he doesn’t necessarily share them.

“I think that’s still a topic of discussion,” Corlett says. “I live in a condominium, and my condominium fees go up every year, and it’s just the cost of doing business for the board of the condominium. Light bills go up, heat bills go up; all of our costs go up.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect, the way some people do talk about this … that, ‘You promised me my tuition would be x, and I’m going to be there for four or five years, so my tuition should never go up’?

“I’m not somebody who actually buys that argument, but we are doing our best to make sure we’re not damaging people’s ability to finish their studies.”

According to the Board of Directors’ quarterly meeting agenda, the goal of the proposition is to ensure “(that) all international students pay at least a minimum (full-time) student fee equivalent to the tuition cost for nine credits in each of the Fall and Winter semesters.”

Moreover, the document stipulates MacEwan’s current international tuition rates are lower than other universities’ in the province. Last year, a 2.4 per cent increase in these rates at MacEwan signalled the institution’s “desire” to fall in line with the other schools.

Corlett says many groups were consulted when the idea for the tuition increase first arose, including students and deans. In the end, these processes led to something he feels is fiscally sound and will not turn off prospective international students. After all, he says, MacEwan still won’t have the highest international tuition in Alberta.

“And so, we’re very comfortable with the business aspect of this, in the sense that you can’t put costs in place that are prohibitive. (In that scenario,) students can no longer come (to MacEwan) because they can’t afford to study — we’re not going to be there, not even in the Alberta context.”

According to Corlett, Canada receives two-thirds of its international students from India and China, a fact that “ought not to surprise us, given that those two countries represent 40 per cent of the world’s population.” To Corlett, this point is important in justifying the tuition increases, as he says Asian students are more inclined toward more expensive schools.

“It’s … that idea that in some cultures, price and quality are linked very strongly,” he explains. “I would argue that value is more important than price.

“I think to be at the very low end of the price spectrum, in some countries in the world, does send a message that you really don’t have the same quality that other programs do,” he says, “because if they can charge more, they must be better, and I’ve had enough experience to know that’s simply not true.”

McConnell is skeptical of this concept.

“(That) really doesn’t make any sense to me,” she says. “I think you should be able to back up your reputation and your value outside of numbers, and if you’re incapable of doing that, then I think we have a bigger concern.”

Corlett points out there are plenty of perks drawing international students to MacEwan already.

“We have a unique brand, I suppose is the way to phrase it,” he says. “We are an undergraduate institution that specializes in providing a student experience for undergraduates.”

He says some students are drawn to post-secondary institutions with imposing reputations and remarkable alumni. To him, this allure does not necessarily translate to quality.

“(The) experience itself may be quite uncaring, quite bad in many cases, and there’s a lot of data out there that talks about this,” he says.

“It’s not just about the degree and the name of the university it comes from; it’s about what you actually learn,” Corlett says, “and I think that that’s a key feature in being able to balance all of the things that we would like the message to contain. This is how much it costs, but this is the value of the education you get from paying that much money. This is why we think MacEwan is right for you.”

However, he concedes that “MacEwan is not right for everybody.” To Corlett, the key to successful recruitment is being honest about MacEwan’s programs and offerings, as well as referring potential students to other institutions if MacEwan (or even Edmonton) might not be a good fit.

As for SAMU, McConnell says the organization will continue to advocate for international students.

“International students should know that, if they’re facing any problems in understanding these processes or no one’s (showing) them this information, that they can come to us, and we’ll advocate for them and push for that information to be readily available,” she says.

“I’m holding the university very accountable in making sure that this isn’t a hidden change.”

MacEwan International declined to comment on this story.

Cover photo supplied.

Ana Holleman

The Griff


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