Arts advising likely to cut international student advisors, following similar changes in other faculties

The faculty of arts may cut its international student advisors in the next academic year.

Academic advising at UBC serves various functions, including helping students with planning their degree and filing academic concessions. Each undergraduate faculty has its own advising office, with several general academic advisors that students can book appointments with.

Aside from general advisors, some faculty academic advising offices also have international student advisors, who have more training and experience specific to international student needs.

However, in the past few years there have been cuts to the number of international student advisors across faculty advising offices on campus.

Viola Chao, the vice-president academic of the Arts Undergraduate Society in the 2021/22 academic year, said that science and commerce advising have removed the position entirely.

Susanne Goodison, director of arts academic advising services, said that other faculty advising offices “have already transitioned away from specific roles for international students,” but did not specify whether science or commerce had done so. Both faculties did not reply to requests for comment.

Chao added that arts advising has cut down the number of international student advisors.

“I believe there used to be a team of eight of them who [were] specifically catered toward supporting international students within the faculty of arts but … a lot of advisors who are specifically focused on international students have just been adjusted to being general academic advisors,” she said.

Chao said that there are currently two international student advisor positions remaining in arts advising, but these may be removed by the next winter session.

“I don’t know if this change has been confirmed yet, but it seems very likely that this will happen,” she said.

Dayle Balmes, the president of the Science Undergraduate Society, declined to comment on the matter, citing a lack of sufficient details from the faculty.

The Ubyssey also reached out to the Commerce Undergraduate Society, but did not receive a response.

Over 27 per cent of UBC Vancouver students are international, indicating the need for an academic advising system that provides sufficient international student support.

“I think just from the work that I’ve done as VP academic this year and having peers who are international students, the difficulties that they’ve faced ... especially during COVID[-19], have brought a lot of unique challenges,” Chao said.

Chao said she thinks it’s important for international students to speak with advisors who are more equipped to address these unique concerns.

She also noted that an understanding of the cultural nuance reflected in being international is a benefit of the position.

“I feel for so many international students who are struggling and trying to balance academics, … and wanting to talk to someone about, ‘Hey, this is going on with my family right now in Ukraine [for example] and I just can’t handle this course load, I may need to drop a class,’” she said. “If they’re able to speak directly with an academic advisor that knows how to delegate that situation, I feel like they would benefit a lot.”

Shambhavi Srivastava, third-year arts student, said that arts academic advising wasn’t able to support her when she could not travel to Vancouver in the first term of the 2021/22 winter session due to the flight ban on India.

When she reached out to arts advising about her classes, they said there was not a lot that could be done besides dropping the classes or reaching out to individual departments about potential online alternatives.

She said she hopes to see increased support for students undergoing unexpected circumstances in the future.

“[There’s] disappointment with the fact that they haven’t been able to help me,” she said.

Goodison wrote in a statement that the removal of international student advisors is part of a transition to an advising model that will allow international students to access better support.

One of the reasons for this change is to minimize confusion between academic advising and support services from the international student advising office, she said.

Aside from academic international student advisors, UBC has an international student advising office which includes trained and registered immigration consultants, and can assist international students in transitioning to life in Canada outside of academics.

“We heard from students that the job titles and roles of different professionals on campus was confusing,” Goodison said. “Students oftentimes come to our office for immigration support and guidance, but academic advisors … cannot offer specific immigration support.”

Muskan Shukla, another arts student going into her third year, said she did not know that arts advising had international student-specific advisors. In her past experiences with drop-in advising, she had been “handed to an advisor” that took care of her needs.

Shukla also said that accessing arts academic advising was “confusing at first,” but that they’re a helpful resource for her.

“They’re there for you. You just have to look for them,” she said.

Another issue Goodison noted in her statement is that international students are not always able to meet with international student-specific advisors when attending academic advising, due to limited availability.

Chao also said that long wait times frustrated students.

“Our goal is to support all students and we believe that the type of support should not be dependent on who a student sees in our office on any given day or time,” Goodison said.

The new advising model seeks to train all arts academic advisors with the knowledge and tools required for international student-specific concerns.

Goodison said the training for international student advisors is “largely similar” to that of general advisors. The key difference is that the former get trained on handling study and post-graduate work permits and must attend the International Student Working Group led by international student advising.

With the removal of international student-specific advisors, all arts academic advisors will now have this additional training, along with an increased focus on equity and inclusion training for the whole office.

She noted that arts advising is developing a knowledge base to best work with specific international student populations.

— With files from Nathan Bawaan