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International student Gurpreet Sabharwal, seen on April 20 in Surrey, B.C., says tuition increases are going to affect many international students, especially those who are from middle-class families.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

When Gurleen Kaur moved to British Columbia from India to start a diploma program at a Vancouver-area university in January, she thought her savings and a part-time job at a coffee shop would be enough to cover her expenses.

But now she’s facing the prospect of asking her family back home for help after learning her school, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, is increasing tuition for international students by 15 per cent.

“It’s kind of hard for us and we have to ask our parents [for help],” Ms. Kaur, an 18-year-old who is taking the university’s computer information-systems diploma program, said in an interview.

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“We cannot drop our classes here, because if we drop the classes, it’s our loss. We’re here to study.”

Kwantlen is one of several schools in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada that have imposed steep increases for international students, who already pay tuition rates as much as seven times higher than their Canadian counterparts.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University is increasing tuition for new or readmitted international students by 15 per cent this fall. Students who are already enrolled, like Ms. Kaur, will see their fees increase by 7.5 per cent this September and a further 6.98 per cent in September, 2019.

The international student rate for a standard five-course semester will be $9,870 this fall, up from $8,583 in the current year. In comparison, Canadian students pay about $2,000 per semester.

A spokesperson for the university said the school has had a surge in interest from international students over the past year.

“The surge in demand has created additional cost pressures for KPU, such as the need to hire additional permanent employees to educate and support our international students,” Tatiana Tomljanovic said in an e-mail.

“While we welcome the international recognition of our programs, we need to ensure we can sustain the engaging and high-quality experience we currently offer our international students.”

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Gurpreet Sabharwal, an international student who is also the Surrey campus representative for the Kwantlen Student Association, said the increase is going to affect many international students, especially those who are from middle-class families.

“I think the university has this presumption that every international student is rich, but that’s not the case,” Mr. Sabharwal said.

“Our tuition is already so high compared to domestic students. We are only allowed to work 20 hours. We hardly manage to pay our bills here, as you know the cost of living in B.C. is so high, especially in the Vancouver area.”

The University of Victoria is increasing undergraduate rates for new international students by 20 per cent this fall. The school is proposing another 15-per-cent increase for the 2019-20 school year. Tuition for current international undergraduate students will increase 4 per cent.

Most of the school’s programs currently charge undergraduate international students $9,031 for one term. New students will pay or $10,837 – an additional $1,800.

Gayle Gorrill, the University of Victoria’s vice-president of finance and operations, said the school’s international tuition rates haven’t kept up with the cost of education. She added the school’s international tuition rates were lower than other universities.

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“We’ve seen a lot of our peer institutions increase their tuition fees and we have not, so we were very much lower than our peers,” she said.

She said the school doesn’t anticipate the tuition increases will drive away international applicants and she noted the school offers financial support for students in need.

Dheeraj Alamchandani, director of international student relations of University of Victoria Students’ Society, said such a significant increase will make the school less accessible for many international students.

“I was very disheartened when I heard that. I was very disappointed,” he said,

“Those who have considered UVic as a viable and accessible resource for getting education might have to back out because of the financial reasons. That makes global education a lot less accessible for everyone.”

Between 2014 and 2017, the tuition for international students at the University of British Columbia increased more than 10 per cent for three years in a row, though the annual increase was slowed down in 2018, when it was 2 per cent more than the previous year.

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At the University of Toronto, the annual increase rate was about 9 per cent in recent years and at York University, the raise is around 10 per cent each year.

Simon Fraser University, near Vancouver, adopted a new policy for international student tuition last year that ensures international student tuition-fee increases will not exceed double the general fee increase for five years following the student’s admission.

The school says the goal is to allow international students to plan ahead without facing the prospect of sudden and significant fee increases.

Simka Marshall of the B.C. Federation of Students said a 20-per-cent tuition-fee hike is egregious. She said such increases highlight the need for the provincial government to introduce a cap on international tuition fees.

“Without any form of regulation, institutions are able to increase tuition fees by whatever amount they want and with very little warning,” Ms. Marshall said in an e-mail.

“This can make it very challenging for an international student to budget for a four-year degree and could result in a student having to drop out and study in another place because of unaffordability.”

The B.C. government caps increases for domestic undergraduate and graduate students at 2 per cent. Ontario has a 3-per-cent cap.