As of Sept. 1 2018, international PhD students will be charged the same tuition fees as domestic PhD students. Nevertheless, the take-home pay for international students will remain the same.

In September 2017, only domestic PhD students were eligible for funding by the province. However, in October, this changed as the provincial government released part of its internationalization strategy in a letter to Ontario universities. The letter highlighted the Ontario government’s commitment to increasing support for international PhD students in the province.

Driving the government’s change was the fact that an insufficient number of domestic students entered Ontario PhD programs in the years prior. According to Doug Welch, vice-provost and dean of graduate studies at McMaster, last year, of the 6,000 PhD spots available, only 2,400 were filled.

“From both the university and province’s point of view, this was unfortunate,” said Welch. “They very much felt, and still feel, that graduate work actually has a strong benefit for the economy in terms of making the knowledge base better and government function better.”

Welch praises the Ontario government’s efforts to attract international PhD students to universities in the province.

“A lot of this talent comes here, stays here, and contributes to the economy,” he said.

Approximately 50 per cent of international students who enrol as PhD students at Ontario universities become permanent residents and Canadian citizens.

“Ontario needs to be competitive in its ability to attract highly qualified students from around the world to its PhD programs,” read part of the letter to Ontario universities.

Most Ontario universities can now use up to 10 per cent of PhD allocations to fund international PhD students. Because McMaster University meets five out of six research intensity criteria, it can allot up to 15 per cent.

Welch, however, doubts that the full 15 per cent will need to be used.

“We attract very strong domestic students, and I think we’ll continue to do so,” he said.

In the past, international tuition prices were not regulated by the province. As a result, tuition between domestic and international students experienced increasing polarization.

However, the university has provided financial support for international students. Some avenues include teaching assistantships, research grants and funds from faculties. In a few cases, these offset the difference between domestic and international tuition fees entirely.

Moreover, in the past, departments would receive $5,000 to $10,000 for each international student and be asked to make up the difference.

“Since we’re a research university and we pride ourselves on having an excellent research environment, we’re basically taxing ourselves for improving research intensity by having researchers find someone who may be the best candidate to any applicant in their particular research,” said Welch.

Welch explains that in the wake of the tuition change, international PhD students will not be able to take home more money.

“Effective Sept. 1, students will not be getting an extra $10,000 in their pays,” he said. “Because we’ve supported that difference in the past, they’re still going to have the same take-home pay after tuition.”

As a result, the tuition change may not significantly improve the affordability of McMaster’s postgraduate education.

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