Students applying to study abroad in the 2011-12 academic year will be charged a non-refundable $150 application fee, due to a new policy instituted by the McGill administration this past September.
Applications to study at a foreign university had previously been processed by McGill for free.
According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, the application fee is intended to act as a deterrent to students who are not fully committed to studying abroad.
“We only want people who are really interested in going [on exchange] to apply,” Mendelson said. “We’ve had a lot of students who decide at the last minute not to go abroad. As a result, other students who would like to go on exchange are left out in the cold.”
Last year, the university received 769 applications to study abroad. As of this August, 162 of those applications had been withdrawn—a rate of approximately 21 per cent. Late withdrawals meant a number of McGill’s international exchange positions went unfilled, due to expired application deadlines for visas and university registration.
Student leaders, however, have taken issue with the fee, which was implemented without student consultation. The fee is non-refundable, so students who cancel their applications or whose applications are rejected will not be reimbursed for the cost.
“A cancellation fee would have made a lot more sense,” said Arts Senator Amara Possian. “If you apply and you’re not accepted, why do you have to pay $150?”
In a memo to Mendelson, Students’ Society Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Abaki and Arts Undergraduate Society President David Marshall argued that the new application fee will “limit access to exchanges, and McGill will probably end up with fewer students going out on exchanges.”
According to Abaki, the application fee contradicts provincial legislation that requires student approval for ancillary fee increases of more than $15 per year. The new fee, he wrote in the memo, “perfectly fits this description.”
Mendelson disagreed with this line of reasoning, however. Because exchange programs are not compulsory, he said, the application fee is not classified as an ancillary charge.
“Students are reasonable—if they knew that a small fee was necessary to improve the services at the Office for International Exchange or to process applications faster, they probably would have been willing to pay it,” Possian said. “This just seems like a sneaky way to fill the budget gap.”
Mendelson acknowledged that the fee was designed to partially recoup some of the costs of operating the Office of International Education, which he emphasizes does not provide services to most students.
But Abaki countered that McGill could have considered other funding sources.
“If the administration needed additional funding to process exchange applications, then both SSMU and the faculty associations would have been willing to consider ways to provide that funding,” he said.
Abaki and Possian also questioned the lack of transparency surrounding the institution of the fee. Neither SSMU nor the faculty associations were informed, and the organizations only learned of the fee when approached by students applying to study abroad.
According to an email from the Office of International Education, the application fee was formulated by looking at registration fees charged by the Group of 13, a collection of Canadian research-intensive universities. McGill’s fee, however, is the third highest among G-13 universities (tied with the University of Calgary), and McGill is one of only three G-13 universities that charges a non-refundable fee before an exchange application has been approved.
“We believe that the fee is not out of line with what is charged by comparable universities,” Mendelson said. “Students will be able to recoup this cost if they are approved for exchange, as they can expect a mobility grant that will more than cover the cost of the application fee.”
The fee will also be waived for students receiving loans or awards from the provincial or federal government, as well as McGill’s Scholarships and Student Aid Office.
Possian, however, expressed concern that the fee will nevertheless prevent others from pursuing an international exchange—as she did last year at Sciences Po, a university in Paris.
“I had to work three jobs for eight months while I was in school in order to be able to afford to go on exchange,” she said. “An extra $150 might discourage people like me from applying.”