International students concerned about fee increases and the future in Canada during the coronavirus pandemic

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A few days into the fall semester, international students enrolled in Canadian universities are worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their studies, their wallets and their future.A group of international students currently enrolled at the University of Toronto have formed the International Student Advocacy Network (ISAN) to present their concerns and demands to university officials.

They say the cost of COVID-19, just like their fees, is disproportionately higher than that of domestic students.

“They have increased fees by 5.4% on average for the coming year and this decision was taken after the announcement of the global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO),” says Anna BML Carneiro , ISAN coordinator.

The group says the fee increase is unwarranted given that the majority of classes are taught online and demand the university to reverse the hike.

“Losing the opportunity to network, to meet different people on campus, to use different resources… all that makes the campus experience and the university experience so rich for us and worth coming here n ‘is no longer available,’ says Carneiro.

ISAN has contacted several university officials’ offices and is awaiting a response as the registration and fee payment deadline approaches.

“We didn’t get a single answer. The responses from the students have been very positive – we have the support of various student groups and other organizations on campus. The student union works with us. But unfortunately, we did not receive a response from the administration, ”explains Carneiro.

The University of Toronto informs CityNews that incidental fees that cover on-campus experiences have been reduced.

« [They have] has been adjusted accordingly to reflect the fact that much of university life will now be off campus, ”said Joseph Wong, vice-president, International at the University of Toronto.

However, he says the increase in international tuition fees is in line with their normal annual tuition fee increase. He adds that switching to online learning doesn’t have to be cheaper.

“We had to invest large sums in terms of new educational technologies, university divisions recruited specialists in educational technologies, professors reworked their courses, in fact adding new elements to their courses that probably would not have taken place. if the pandemic did not occur, ”says Wong.

Wong also says the classrooms are outfitted for a “dual delivery” system, with some students in class while others register online. They had to be revamped with new equipment, including materials like microphones and screens to enable both classroom and online learning.

“We want to create, as much as possible, an in-person experience for all students and that requires huge investments. So you look at the renovated room – just the cost of the material itself to make it happen and continue to provide a very high quality educational experience for our students requires resources, ”he explains.

However, while all students, domestic and international, will benefit from the improvements, the only ones facing a fee hike are international students, who already pay up to seven times the domestic tuition fee.

“Our domestic students, their tuition fees or the expenses incurred to purchase the same educational experience for them are subsidized by the government,” Wong says.

“Given the reality of the levels of these grants, they are such that we have had to keep raising tuition fees for international students – as we normally would. This is not an extraordinary increase, it is just part of our regular incremental increase. ”

Aside from a disruption in on-going studies, international students may also find their future in limbo, as some may not be able to meet the eligibility criteria for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWP) thanks to the COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The length of a PTPD depends on the length of the program a student is enrolled in.

In its latest update to eligibility criteria, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) indicates that students enrolled in an eight or 12 month program, which begins between May and September 2020, can now complete their program online. from outside Canada and still be eligible. for a PGWP.

People on longer programs can study online from abroad until April 30, 2021 and will not have time deducted from the duration of a future post-graduation work permit – but they still need to complete 50% of their program while they are physically present in Canada.

For those currently outside the country, returning to Canada to meet these criteria could be difficult, as they must prove that their travel is “non-discretionary” or essential. With many universities offering online courses, proving that it is essential for them to be physically present in Canada could be complicated.

Ziah Sumar, an immigration lawyer at Long Mangalji LLP, says some international students may be allowed to return based on other criteria – for example, if an international student has moved to Canada and was already living there and returned home. for holidays.

“IRCC said the ‘non-discretionary’ [criteria] includes people who already live in Canada. Technically, according to IRCC’s definition, they should be able to return to Canada, ”she said.

“That being said, IRCC says it ‘may’ be able to do it and that ultimately the final decision rests with the border services officer.

IRCC confirms on its website that “a border services officer will make the final decision as to whether the reason for your trip to Canada is non-discretionary or non-optional.”

The University of Toronto and Ryerson University say international students will receive documents proving their travel is essential if they wish to return.

CityNews has contacted the IRCC to confirm if these documents will constitute sufficient proof to return to the country and they have only said that the entry criteria for international students remain the same.

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