The Great Foreign Student Rip Off - The Top Canadian Universities for Foreign Students 2015

Canada now ranks 7th among destinations for international students seeking to study abroad, often in an English-speaking country like Australia, New Zealand, or the USA and the UK.  From 2003 to 2013 there was an 84% increase in international students in Canada, from slightly over 159,000 to about 290,000. In post-secondary education, international students make up about 8% of total enrolment. But wait, here’s the best part. Canada now earns around $8 billion annually from foreign students, including tuition and living expenses.


Bring Your Money and Leave When You're Done

And why is that? Well, as any international post-secondary student in Canada knows, they pay way more tuition than Canadians. In fact, international post-secondary students pay fees that are often several times more than the made-in-Canada fees applicable to native-born and naturalized Canadians. For example, in Ontario, you have the following tuition differentials:

University/College Domestic tuition¹ International Tuition¹ Percentage Increase
for Internationals
Brock University CAD$5,926 CAD$19,483 229% 
The University of Guelph CAD$5,924 CAD$14,080 138%
McMaster University CAD$5,952 CAD$19,235 223%
Ontario College of Art and Design CAD$5,900 CAD$18,880 220%
Queen's University CAD$6,039 CAD$25,517 323%
The University of Toronto CAD$8,235 CAD$31,260 280%
The University of Waterloo CAD$6,687 CAD$21,508 222%
The University of Windsor CAD$5,882 CAD$18,350 212%
York University CAD$6,026 CAD$13,176 119%
Ryerson University CAD$5,989 CAD$20,115 236%
Royal Military College of Canada CAD$5,560 CAD$17,500 215%

¹ Average Tuition. Specific rates, depending on what courses/programs are studied, may differ slightly, especially for international students. Does not include living expenses.

From the above table, we can see that these Ontario schools are no bargain for international students. The worst offender is clearly Queen’s University which is not even among the top globally-ranked Canadian schools anymore. York University, however, seems to have a policy of making tuition for international students more accessible than the others do. This would fit with its philosophy of supporting diversity in as many ways as possible.

Looking at examples of tuition differentials across the rest of Canada, we have the following results: 

University/College Domestic Tuition¹ International Tuition¹ Percentage Increase
for Internationals
The University of British Columbia CAD$4,890 CAD$23,286 376%
Simon Fraser University CAD$5,217 CAD$19,648 277%
The University of Alberta CAD$5,321 CAD$19,645 269%
The University of Calgary CAD$5,386 CAD$18,338 241%
The University of Manitoba CAD$3,679 CAD$12,878 250%
McGill University CAD$4,457 CAD$16,243 264%
Bishop's University CAD$4,453 CAD$16,233 264%
The University of New Brunswick CAD$6,187 CAD$13,680 121%
Dalhousie University CAD$6,014 CAD$15,234 153%
St. Francis Xavier University CAD$6,213 CAD$13,970 125%

¹ Average Tuition. Specific rates depending on what courses/programs are taken, may differ slightly, especially for international students. Does not include living expenses.


Value for Money

From the above tables, one can see which universities charge international students the most relative to Canadian students, with UBC followed by Queen’s at the top of the list. But which of the above schools offers the best value? To answer this question we took the QS World Rankings of the Canadian schools, which is one of the most broad-based rankings (rather than the THE survey or the ARWU survey), and compared the relative cost of tuition for international students at each Canadian University we looked at. We arrived at the relative cost of tuition by comparing tuition at each Canadian University with an average of the top 10 globally ranked schools in the QS survey. In other words, how much bang for your buck are you getting as an international student? Here are the results of the top 10 value plays among Canadian Universities:

University Relative cost compared to
Top 10 global universities¹
QS global ranking
The University of Manitoba US$27,950 less than Global Top l 10 tuition average Below 700
York University US$27,682 less 421-430
The University of Guelph US$26,868 less 431-440
Dalhousie University US$25,829 less  235
McGill University US$23,297 less 21
The University  of Calgary US$22,991 less 171
McMaster University US$22,229 less 113
The University of Alberta US$21,860 less 84
Simon Fraser University US$21,857 less 222
Ryerson University US$21,437 less Below 700
The University of Waterloo US$20,183 less 169
The University of British Columbia US$18,583 less 43
Queen's University US$16,575 less 187
The University of Toronto US$11,406 less 20

¹ Tuition is based on the average of Undergraduate degree costs and does not include costs for Postgraduate degrees.

While one would expect a University’s ranking to be lower as the savings on tuition compared to global top 10 tuition costs increased, there are exceptions clearly visible. On the good side, McGill University is great value for the money. You pay far less in tuition than at a global top 10 university but get a QS global ranking of 21. Queen’s University comes up looking lousy again with a QS ranking of only 187 and yet it is the 2nd most expensive school compared to global top 10 tuition costs. And Ryerson is relatively expensive but ranks below 700, a clear disappointment.

York and Guelph are good bargains on the cost side, but rank below 400. University of Calgary, McMaster, and University of Alberta are solid mid-table choices both in terms of cost and quality of education. And at either end of the table, University of Manitoba is cheap and ranks poorly while University of Toronto is the most expensive by a long shot while the top in the rankings, if only by 1 point ahead of McGill at 20. University of British Columbia is expensive but offers good quality with a QS ranking of 43.


Save! Save! Save!

Finally, we have a best buy for bargain hunters; the cheapest Canadian schools for international students. These are the cheapest 5 schools based on their Canadian dollar tuition fees for international students.

University Tuition Increase for Internationals QS ranking
(if applicable)
The University of Manitoba CAD$12,878 250% Below 700
York University CAD$13,176 119% 421-430
The University of New Brunswick CAD$13,680 121% Not Ranked
St. Francis Xavier University CAD$13,970 125% Not Ranked
The University of Guelph CAD$14,080 138% 431-440
(5 Stars)

Manitoba, York, and Guelph Universities are all in the best value table as well, while UNB and St. Francis Xavier are not because of their lack of QS global rankings. That does not mean you can’t get a good education at UNB or St. Francis Xavier, just that you might get a better deal elsewhere. And as an international student faced with discriminatory tuition fees in Canada, your smartest choice is always to go for value. 

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