Letter to the Editor: It’s time to say goodbye to international student fees

The fees are difficult for international students to afford and prevent top academic talent from attending UW

The University of Wisconsin prides in its reputation as a globally renowned institution with welcoming arms to academic excellences from across the world.

But I would argue there is nothing to be proud of — at least for now.

UW is home to 6,377 international students – not including permanent U.S. residents, DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants – and myself, which is around 14% of the total student population. Besides our contribution to building a globally prestigious academic institution, international students also contribute to the Wisconsin economy by paying taxes, supporting local businesses and injecting energy to build an internationally reputable business-friendly market.

But our contributions have earned us nothing but a higher cost of attendance. According to the Bursar’s Office, compared to domestic non-resident students, international students pay at least $1,676 more in tuition and fees as of the academic year 2022. Out of this $1,676, $200 goes to the International Student Services, known as ISS, and $1,476 goes to mandatory health insurance.

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To put that into perspective, over half of the international students are from China with 3,222 UW students and India with 956 UW students. For reference of what this number means for international students, $1,676 is around 63% of the average annual income of an Indian citizen, 34% of the average annual income of an urban Chinese citizen and 40% of the average annual income of a rural Chinese citizen.

It would be more acceptable if the money international students pay was worth the service in return. However, from personal experience, the services I received aren’t worth the money I paid. It took over a month for ISS to prepare my paperwork for the SSN application and three weeks for them to add a signature on my I-20, which is paperwork issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security required for most international students to enter or re-enter the U.S.

Those are the only services I received after paying international student fees. The mandatory insurance is also laughable. I am privately insured and pay segregated fees to UHS, yet I still need to pay for the mandatory insurance SHIP. Here is a document breaking down the SHIP insurance, and I think it is not hard to conclude after reading it that this program is not worth the cost.

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These futile extra costs may push away many excellent international students from pursuing their academic careers here. Under Chancellor Blank’s ten-year tenure, UW’s global ranking dropped significantly – especially in the past several years after they instituted international student fees.

In the past eight years, according to QS World University Rankings, UW’s global ranking dropped from 37 to 75, and according to Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 29 to 58. While these two agencies tend to favor academic institutions from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realms, they are two of the most reputable academic ranking agencies globally, and the ranking trend they provide is indisputable.

Let me be frank. UW has produced 26 Nobel Laureates, the president of Bangladesh, one U.S. vice president, the president of the federal constitutional court of Germany, countless cabinet-level officials and legislators around the world from Taiwan to Norway and many other notable figures who shaped the world profoundly and positively. These past achievements make it devastating to see this university struggle with its academic performance. 

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Nevertheless, academic institutions in a free market follow the Ricardian Model of Supply and Demand. The excessive cost for international students is harming the global reputation of this university and pushing away international students with exceptional brilliance and potential.

It’s not too late to change, and the opportunity for improvement is in front of us. With a new chancellor, a new Board of Regents, and a new state government on the horizon, there are tremendous and historic opportunities ahead for UW to fulfill its mission of education, truly embody the Wisconsin Idea and return to the rank of global top-tier university.

I would like to call upon all the students — regardless of nationality and citizenship — to support international students and our message to abolish excessive international student fees through segregated fees or refined budgeting and provide more flexible issuance plans for international students.

It’s time to say goodbye to this nonsense.

Steven Shi ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in international studies, economics and political science. He serves as the Chair of Nominations Board, Student Council Representative and a member of Student Services Finance Committee for the Associated Students of Madison.


Letters to the editor are published on the discretion of the opinion desk and editor. They may not reflect the views of the Herald. Email your own letters to the editor to [email protected]

This article was published May 3, 2022 at 12:49 pm and last updated May 3, 2022 at 11:07 pm


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