On Campus

Alberta international tuition hike isn't right

Why can we find money for execs but not foreign students?

Lynn McMullen, a professor in Meat Microbiology, teaches at U. Alberta (Chris Bolin for Maclean's)

International students at the University of Alberta are facing a possible five per cent tuition increase next year, equating to $900 to $1,600 per year, depending on the program. They already pay several times as much tuition as domestic students to make up for lack of taxpayer funding. Domestic tuition, meanwhile, is set to rise only one per cent. While many international students have cried out in protest, some domestic students support higher increases for non-Albertans.

I, however, have to side with my international colleagues that this tuition increase is unfair. I can’t imagine the sudden stress they’re under. Why is it that Alberta universities can find millions of dollars for things like $8.1-million executive office upgrades and 3.65% pay raises but can’t keep tuition down for these vulnerable students?

My empathy comes from the experiences I’ve had as a student on a diverse campus. For the past year, I’ve been a writing tutor working exclusively with students who are relatively new to Canada. I meet with an entire class of English as a Second Language students every week and so I know them not only on an academic level, but a personal level. Some say I’m their first Canadian friend.

I end up hearing a lot about problems that they have both academically and personally. I spend a lot of time answering questions about life in Canada and helping students cope with major culture shocks. In the past year, I’ve answered questions from where to find a grocery store to where one can find a mental health resource on campus. Life is not easy for them. International students face the problems that Canadian students face and then some. Adapting to a new country with different cultural values and different ways of life is difficult on anyone without throwing advanced academia into the mix. On top of that, many students are oceans away from family.

“I do not have a single relative in Canada,” says Rabib Alam, a third-year engineering student. “If I stayed [in Bangladesh] I’d have that feeling of belonging and I would have been way more nourished.”

The Canadian Bureau for International Education, a group that promotes international education, recently surveyed 1,500 international students. While 91% agreed they were satisfied or very satisfied with studying in Canada, 50% agreed that they were “very concerned” about high tuition costs. Adding another $900 to $1,600 a year will only add to that concern.

While Alam was saving for his education, he set aside money in case tuition rose gradually over his degree but it won’t be enough. “Neither I, nor any other foreign student expected this,” he says.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this situation is the fact that some domestic students think this random increase is justified, even going as far as writing things on Facebook like, “deal with it, or go back to a university where you came from.” I’ve always regarded my university campus as a non-judgmental environment where students from all walks of life can feel secure and respected.

Right now I don’t think we’re respecting the international members of our community.

Ravanne Lawday is in year two of an arts degree at the University of Alberta.