International student issues #4 - Gaining protections against tuition increases

By the International Student Sub-Committee of OrganizeUW

Image of Toronto Pearson Airport, indoors, a Canadian flag hangs above a nondescript group of travellers in the distance engaged in the hustle and bustle of air travel. Photo by H W on Unsplash

This article is the fourth in a series of short blog posts by our international student organizers.

International students face rising tuition, even during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tuition for international students is over three times more expensive than the tuition paid by domestic students. International students generate more than $21 billion in Canada's economic activity through tuition as well as their labour on and off campus. Furthermore, international students face erratic tuition hikes on top of annual tuition increases.

But how can international students gain protections against ever-increasing tuition? Is there really anything that can be done?

The situation has only deteriorated during the global pandemic. According to the GSA's report “during the global pandemic situation of COVID – 19, and the classes being fully online, there was approximately a 12% increase in tuition fees for graduate students at the University of Waterloo, which was a huge burden for the international students especially” (Allada, Nair & Periakaruppan, 2020, p. 4). Petitions were signed by domestic and international students in many Canadian Universities including the University of Waterloo to demand that tuition should not get increased but should rather decrease while the campuses remain closed. Unfortunately, most universities’ administrations did not comply with this demand, including UW.

Organizing to demand real protection against tuition increases

This example supports the case that our current means and representation structures are not strong enough for these demands to be heard. In contrast to existing student associations, unions can negotiate fee increases similar to how they can negotiate salaries, recognizing that rising fees undermine any wage or funding increases.

A concrete example is the case of York University, where the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) successfully negotiated tuition indexation. This means that for every dollar that is added to tuition, a dollar is added to graduate student compensation for the union members. When York University challenged this commitment for incoming students, the continuing students successfully fought this back through their local union.

At Western University in London, ON, where graduate students are unionized, the university announced in 2018 that all international PhD students would now pay the same tuition as domestic students - this shows the change that is possible when international students have a clear voice to the administration! Unlike UW, Western has decided that tuition equity for all is a vital part of their strategy as a university, and they are willing to prove it through real investment.

It is imperative for international graduate students to join the ongoing efforts to unionize, to ensure and fight for our protection while the university continues to exploit us. Together we can make things better for international student workers at UW.

Want to find out more? We have an international student FAQ and a 2-minute guide to unionization in English and Mandarin. If you want to sign up, click here to request a union card. And if you have questions, want to talk to our international student team, or volunteer, you can email us or stop by our weekly video call (every Tue, 1:30pm EST). We would love to hear from you!

Committee to Organize uWaterloo
Committee to Organize uWaterloo
supported by CUPE

The Committee to Organize uWaterloo is a grassroots campaign to unionize the academic workers at the University of Waterloo. The campaign is supported by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Canada's largest union.