International student caucus gives students a voice

On Oct. 12, the International Student Caucus met for the first time this year in the University of Manitoba Students’ Union council chambers.

The meeting was open to the student body, giving students from various backgrounds a chance to come together to address issues affecting international students on campus.

Concerns were raised regarding rising tuition fees, financial assistance and international student health coverage.

UMSU vice-president (internal) Aisyah Abdkahar said the caucus is geared towards bringing international students together for two purposes.

“First, as a forum to collectively voice the opinions of the international student community on [campus] [ . . . ] and second, as a tool to help the community mobilize to promote and advance its interests,” she said.

The first issue to be addressed was the international differential fee that international students are required to pay as part of their tuition. The discussion was fuelled by the fact that international students currently pay three and a half times more in tuition fees than domestic students.

The caucus first addressed the fact that since tuition fees for international students were de-regulated by the provincial government about ten years ago, the university administration has chosen to charge fees considerably higher than what a Canadian student would pay.

“This is why it is so important for international students and their allies to find ways to have their voice heard by decision-makers,” said Abdkahar.

Those in attendance felt that the rising tuition costs for international students are not justified.

“There is no check and balance system or justification for this to occur,” said Julie Rempel, a U of M student in her final year of human nutritional sciences.

“Simply because international students are not able to vote in municipal, provincial or federal elections does not mean they should not be heard and taken seriously.”

In addition, it was said that tuition fees often change during the summer, which can have a significant impact in terms of financial planning.

Abdkahar explained that international students sometimes have to deal with the reality that funds budgeted for the years to complete their degree would not be enough anymore.

International students in attendance also voiced their difficulties in accessing scholarships.

Abdkahar said that international students are often ineligible for scholarships, as they are neither landed immigrants or citizens.

“Unlike Canadian students, international students are also unable to apply for and access public student loans, requiring them to either rely on their families or private loans to make ends meet,” said Abdkahar.

Abdkahar said that this year UMSU is redesigning their awards, with one specifically aimed at assisting international students. “We [ . . . ] have been working on helping students with immediate costs and have a dedicated scholarship and bursary fund to provide students with assistance funding their education,” she said.

Some students in attendance said that the transition from the International College of Manitoba (ICM) to U of M is not always easy due to a large gap in difficulty levels, with the college often having easier classes.

The ICM is an educational institution that has been located on the fifth floor of University Center since 2006, which provides opportunity for international students to begin the first year of their bachelor degree before entering into their second year as a student at the University of Manitoba.

UMSU voiced concerns that ICM students are not getting the highest quality of education that they could be getting.

The college has been the subject of much scrutiny, as it is operated by the for-profit education company Navitas and “continues a dangerous trend of privatizing our publicly-funded post-secondary educational system,” according to Abdkahar.

“It makes me very sad that international students are the victims,” she said.

The issue of the expense of health insurance for international students also came up as prominent topic of discussion.

According to Abdkahar, all international students, prior to getting into their classes, must purchase private health insurance from Great West Life, along the terms of the university’s International Health Insurance Plan.

“Currently, international students have to pay $450 per year to access health care coverage that is far worse than what is provided by the provincial government,” said Abdkahar.

The consensus of attendees of the meeting was that that public health care should be extended to international students as well.

UMSU is currently working on a campaign to allow international students to access the same health coverage that Canadian students enjoy.

According to the discussions, the province is ready to take action. However, the premier said he would like to see support from international students. Those who spoke were in agreement that this would not only help the province attract more international students, but it would also relieve students in terms of lessening financial pressures.

Olukayode Adekoya, an international student in his fourth year of economics, says that much of the university’s reputation abroad rests on the recommendation of international students at the U of M.

“It is therefore crucial that the university listens to what international students have to say,” he said

Adekoya said that the increase in tuition fees and the reduction of international student privileges creates a harsh environment for students, which he believes can have a negative effect on enrolment numbers.

A new student group called the International Student Group has been created this year in hopes of uniting students from all across the world.

The meeting was concluded with hopes of hosting another one before the end of the year.