The death of an Indian student in Toronto last month made international headlines, but while Kartik Vasudev’s story ended in tragedy, his parents’ sacrifices offer a glimpse of the hardships many international students and their families face in order to fulfill their dreams of a future to be realized in Canada.
Vasudev’s father, Jitesh Vasudev, told CBC News he and his wife spent their entire life savings and mortgaged their house to take out a $50,000 loan just to fund his son’s first year of education in Canada before he was shot became.
“My innocent child’s only fault was that he had big dreams of studying in a foreign country and he wanted to make a name for himself while representing India,” Vasudev’s mother, Pooja Vasudev, said in a video posted to Instagram . “We had many dreams and expectations for our child that he would support us in old age.”
International students who spoke to CBC News say these types of sacrifices are common and can take a heavy toll.
They say international students can pay almost four times more tuition than domestic students and are calling for changes.
A report by Ontario’s Auditor General last year highlighted Ontario’s colleges’ reliance on international tuition fees.
The report showed that while international students accounted for just 30 percent of total public college enrollments, they accounted for 68 percent of the $1.7 billion in tuition revenue. The majority of the students – 62 percent – were from India.
According to a 2020 Global Affairs Canada report, international students contributed $16.2 billion and $19.7 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
A better future in Canada
Students and advocates told CBC News that many international students from India come to Canada to become permanent residents and build better futures for themselves and their families.
They say there are limited job opportunities in India compared to Canada, leading their parents to go to great lengths to send them abroad.
Jobanpreet Singh knows this fight first hand.
Jobanpreet Singh, left, says his family spent all their life savings, took out massive loans and also sold assets just to pay for his freshman year of college. (Submitted by Jobanpreet Singh)
“[Vasudev’s family] sacrificed a lot to send her child to Canada for a better future,” said the 22-year-old international student. “I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her.”
Born and raised into a farming family in Punjab, India, Singh came to Canada in August 2021 as an international student where he is studying at the Academy of Learning Career College in Toronto.
During his first year in Canada, his family spent around $30,000 on tuition and living expenses.
Singh said his family spent all their life savings, taking out massive loans and selling assets just to pay for his freshman year.
“[International students] we have work stress, school stress, and we have extremely high tuition fees, plus we can only work 20 hours a week,” he said.
Singh said it is very difficult to manage the expenses and living expenses in Toronto while working these limited hours.
According to a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), “Limiting off-campus work to 20 hours per week reflects the fact that the focus for international students in Canada is on their studies.”
Tuition fees between domestic and international students
Sarom Rho, of advocacy group Migrant Students United, says international students coming to Canada are also facing rising tuition fees, which are already three to four times higher than domestic tuition fees.
“The majority of current and former international students and their families have made tremendous sacrifices for them, such as selling land, taking out massive student loans, selling assets just to pay these extremely high tuition fees,” Rho said.
Rho added that international students also face significant mental health issues as a result of these financial burdens.
The Ontario Department of Colleges and Universities said in a statement that it understands international students face unique challenges as newcomers to Canada and Ontario.
“Student welfare is paramount and we support the steps being taken by Ontario’s colleges and universities to ensure international students are well supported before and after they arrive in Ontario,” said James Tinajero, spokesman for the ministry .
Gurpreet Singh, a 22-year-old Seneca College student, arrived in Canada in September 2020. His parents mortgaged all of their farmland to send him to Canada.
Gurpreet Singh is halfway through his education and the remaining two semesters of his studies will cost him approximately $16,000. He says he pays for the rest of his studies himself. (Submitted by Gurpreet Singh)
He said that because of his international student status in Canada, he cannot apply for scholarships and fellowships at his college.
“It’s a big disadvantage for us,” Gurpreet said. “If we don’t get anything extra [over] the domestic students and we pay the same taxes, then why do we pay this huge amount for our tuition?”
The ministry says the boards of governors of colleges and universities have full power to set tuition fees for international students.
“Colleges and universities are free to set tuition fees for international students at a level that the institutions deem appropriate,” Tinajero said.
Gurpreet is halfway through his education and the remaining two semesters of his degree will cost him approximately $16,000. But instead of asking his family for help, Gurpreet takes responsibility for himself.
According to IRCC, international students can work full-time when they are on a scheduled break, such as during the winter and summer holidays, or during a fall or spring reading week.
Gurpreet is currently on summer break from college. He says this is his last chance to work full-time before starting his third semester in the fall.
For the next four months of the summer break, Gurpreet says he will work in two different camps to do long days of general work.
“Right now I have to focus on my work to pay my fees, so I’m willing to compromise for the next four months,” he said.
“I know this is going to be tough, but these difficulties are temporary and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”