Ukrainians sheltering in Canada hit hard by tuition fees

In Canada’s largest province, Ontario, many Ukrainian university students who fled Ukraine for Canada due to the war in their homeland are being faced with having to pay international student – not domestic – tuition and other university fees, because they are not being classed as refugees.

As a result, they are having to pay up to CA$50,000 (US$37,160) per year.

Announced with much fanfare a week after Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Canada-Ukraine Authorization For Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, under which almost 250,000 Ukrainians have been sheltered in Canada, included one-time, non-taxable grant CA$3,000 per adult and CA$1,500 per each child under 17, access to health care and the right apply for study and work permits.

It also provided for free access to elementary and secondary education.

The program did not, however, categorise Ukrainians as refugees as defined by the United Nations.

“The first thing we’re looking for,” says Ihor Michalchyshyn, chief executive officer and executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), “is for university administrations to do the right thing and be compassionate and recognise the situation that these students are not in a position to pay exorbitant international fees, that they’re fleeing war.

“They’re in Canada on a temporary basis and that they are refugees in the popular understanding of what a refugee is—someone who has fled war. They intend to go back to Ukraine. We shouldn’t let the legal terminology get in the way of doing what makes sense.”

CUAET students like 17-year-old Polina Gaga, who is graduating high school in Ottawa, Ontario this spring and has been accepted at Carleton University (CU, Ottawa), and students who are already in university fall into a grey zone because of the way the CUAET program was structured.

It gives Ukrainians sheltering in Canada open work permit holder status, meaning they can work freely in Canada (as if they were Canadian citizens), in contrast to refugees whose work status is more restricted.

Law silent on what Ukrianians should pay

However, unlike the laws governing refugee claimants, which stipulate that refugees must be charged tuition and fees according to domestic rates, the law setting up the CUAET program is silent on the question of what tuition and fees Ukrainians in Canada should pay.

According to professor Oleksandr Romanko, senior policy advisor of the UCC, while there were some Ukrainians in Canada under the CUAET program were caught in this gray zone last year, there were there were very few Ukrainian high school students living in Canada under the CUAET program and most did not have time apply to college and university.

“So, as a result, this year, we have a much bigger inflow of students than we did last year who are planning on entering Canadian universities and colleges. Now we have ten times the number who applied or are already accepted,” says Romanko, who teaches in the Faculty of applied science and engineering at the University of Toronto (UofT) and in the School of Computer Science, Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv (Ukraine).

In the absence of federal legislation mandating what fees, different provinces have adopted different regimens; in the main provinces are responsible for setting tuition fees.

Canada’s four western provinces, which together are home to 60% of the Ukrainian diaspora, some 1.35 million people or 4% of the country’s population, which dates back to the 1880s, have all announced that starting in September, CUAET students will pay domestic tuition rates.

On 14 May, the government of Saskatchewan announced a CA$400,000 fund to defray the international fees of tuition of CUAET students in that province so that they pay the same rate as domestic students.

After saying that the “University of Manitoba is committed to continuing to support students who are impacted by the war in Ukraine,” the university’s website says that beginning with the fall 2023 term, “undergraduate and graduate Ukrainian students who are studying at the university of Manitoba on a valid CUAET visa and study permit will be eligible to pay domestic tuition fees”.

The websites of the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia list similar information.

Ontario made no special provision

Ontario, which is the home to approximately 27% of the country’s historical Ukrainian diaspora, and as the country’s largest province is thought to have the largest number of CUAET students, has made no special provision for CUAET students like Gaga.

As reported by Avanthika Anand of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on 25 May, Gaga’s acceptance came with a steep price tag. The 17-year-old told CBC that CU “estimated tuition for one year for my [technology] program is around CA$32,000 to CA$47,000”.

The university is providing Gaga with a CA$4,000 scholarship based on Gaga’s grades, but she is responsible for finding the additional monies necessary to attend Carleton.

The last manual concerning tuition and fees issued by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities dates to 2010, twelve years before the CUAET program was established.

“As a result most colleges are saying to [CUAET] students that this is not in the manual issued by the ministry. As a result, they will not allow you to pay domestic tuition,” although, Romanko adds, there are exceptions such as the University of Western Ontario (UWO, Windsor, Ontario) and the University of Waterloo.

John Fairley, vice-president of communications at St Clair College (Windsor) told CBC, that his college is giving Ukrainians free tuition and is waiving the residence fees.

Sponsored students

A number of students who were already in university, such as Vladyslav Slovskyi and Kyrylo Khutornyi were sponsored by foundations to come to Canada after the Russian invasion.

Slovskyi, who comes from the city of Chernivtsi in south western Ukraine (north of Moldova), was studying economics at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NU-KMA) and working at the United Nations Global Compact Network (UN-GCN), a non-binding global initiative that sees to have businesses adapt their process to the UN’s Sustainability Goals and responsible social policies.

After Russia’s invasion, the UN-GCN relocated to Warsaw and Slovskyi moved to the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany.

Under the auspices of the Toronto-based Temerity Foundation, Slovskyi and Khutornyi were among 200 CUAET students brought to Canada in the fall of 2022 to study at the UofT.

“We were sponsored by the Temerty Foundation (TF) and therefore did not have to pay tuition fees. However, the tuition fee for the whole 2022-2023 academic year in the undergraduate program in Arts (because Economics is considered as an Art specialisation) is CA$59,320. Therefore, my exchange semester would cost me CA$29,660 (1/2 academic year).

“Also I lived in a student residence which is approximately CA$3,400 for 4 months. Additionally, everyone living in the dormitory needs a meal plan because there is no kitchen inside which is CA$3,000.

“Therefore, if the exchange would not be covered by the foundation, I would pay CA$36,060 (not including clothes, books, notebooks and other personal expenses).

“In total, the Temerty Foundation spent roughly CA$3.2 million on the program for a bit more than 200 students.”

Since the beginning of this year, Slovskyi, who has been living off savings, has been a full-time on-line student at NU-KMA. In September, he will begin studying at the UWO, where, instead of paying the rate for international students, between CA$44,900 and CA$61,000, Slovskyi will pay the domestic tuition rate of approximately CA$9,000.

To cover this amount, he will use monies, approximately CA$2,000 saved from his summer job with Rodan Energy Solutions, a Mississauga, Ontario-based company that optimises companies’ energy usage, a scholarship he hopes to receive from the Shevchenko Foundation or, if he does not receive the scholarship, student loans, “even though it's difficult for Ukrainians to get them,” he told University World News in an e-mail.

Khutornyi, who is a fourth-year political science graduate student, applied to come to Canada while on an exchange program in Finland, where he was when Russia invaded.

He told University World News that without the support of the Temerty Foundation, he would not have been able to come to Canada because of his family’s straightened financial circumstances – Russia’s invasion had badly damaged his father’s business as a commodity appraiser.

“The foundation paid for my flight, living costs in the dormitories and food,” he said before adding that he knows of other Ukrainian students who are in worse financial situations.

This September, Khutornyi will begin the Master of Global Affairs program at UofT’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. His letter of acceptance read in part, “Subject to approval by Governing Council, it is expected that full-time fees for the current year will be CA$48,470.00, not including program-specific incidental and ancillary fees.”

This degree is not being covered by the Temerity Foundation. Fifteen thousand dollars of Khutornyi’s tuition and fees will be covered by the merit-based scholarship for outstanding academic achievement UofT awarded him.

To cover the CA$33,000 remaining, he applied for and was awarded the Mitacs Globalink Research Award, which will fund a one-time CA$6,000 grant for a visiting researcher position at UofT’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies.

“Hopefully, my remaining fees will be covered by the joint dual-diploma program launched by the Munk School and the Kyiv School of Economics in which I am enrolled,” he says.

Sending money home

Both Slovskyi and Khutornyi told me that, as do many funded students, including Slovskyi, he regularly remitted monies to Ukraine to help support his family; both intend to return to Ukraine to help rebuild their homeland.

Perhaps surprisingly, neither of these young scholars feel that Canada has reneged on an implicit promise not just to shelter them but to afford them a way to continue their education.

“First of all,” says Khutornyi, "nobody was promising me personally nor other Ukrainian students anything in terms of education. That’s just help from friendly countries because of the war in Ukraine,” he says.

“I also do not feel as if I’m being treated unfairly or anything like that. I’m really grateful to the Canadian government and the provincial governments for their support. It’s really unprecedented.

“We feel ourselves to be on the same side as those students, other students, who have had to flee their homelands and have the opportunity to pay domestic fees.”

Powerpoint plea

A few minutes after my interview with Slovskyi, Khutornyi and Romanko ended, Romanko sent me a PowerPoint deck he hopes to present to the Minister of Colleges and Universities of Ontario, the Honourable Jill Dunlop, that makes the case for the Ontario government to follow Canada’s western provinces and mandate that CUAET students pay domestic tuition and fees.

As of my interview with Romanko on 30 May, the UCC was awaiting a response from the minister.