Letter: Tuition increases unfairly target international students

The disproportionate share of tuition increases that new international students carry (four per cent compared to two per cent for domestic students) is further evidence that UBC sees international students as cash cows.

The proposal notes that “A four per cent increase in new international student tuition results in a $1,521.90 increase over 30 credits.” $1,500 is substantial and could wipe out any earnings a student makes from a part-time job. It could be the difference between a student being able to afford housing, next year’s tuition, a flight home to see family at Christmas, etc. Obviously, domestic students are also impacted, but only face an additional “$107.70 increase over 30 credits.” The idea that all international students are wealthy and can take the hit is, as we know, just a generalization.

When the 2015 tuition increase was proposed and then approved, there was outrage from student groups and the AMS. While the jump in fees was more dramatic — “Most programs will see an increase of 15 per cent in 2016-2017, an additional 15 per cent the following year and 11 per cent in the third year,” — the four per cent increase that new international students face is also substantial. Particularly since this is four per cent of an already dramatically inflated tuition.

I worry that we are in a 'frog in boiling water' situation, where this fee proposal is slipping through the cracks because the impact is somewhat obscured. The administration has done its due diligence in the sense that we received an email and there’s an alert on the UBC website, but you have to click through the actual proposal to understand the impact — which I doubt many students have done.

There was recently a federal election in Canada, one which received broad coverage in The Ubyssey and warranted several emails from Dr. Santa Ono and Dr. Ainsley Carry, extolling the virtues of civic engagement. I think it’s fantastic that there’s been such a powerful push to encourage voting and engage students in politics.

I just wish that push extended to our local politics at UBC.

The unfortunate reality is that, while we’re often more impacted by local politics, we tend to focus more on the glitz and glamour of national campaigns. The good news is that we can decide to be civically engaged at all levels, regardless of whether the administration seeks out student engagement in UBC politics in the same way it encourages participation in national elections.

According to the administration’s script, the reason international students pay so much more in tuition than their domestic counterparts (roughly six times as much), is because the Canadian government subsidizes higher education for its citizens. But this still doesn’t answer the question of why new international students face double the percentage increase as new domestic students.

Being slightly more affordable than American universities is not something to gloat about.

Emulating the financial models of for-profit American universities leads UBC down a slippery slope of becoming a for-profit university. After all, for-profit universities are simply institutions that have decided to make money off of their students/customers. When an organization becomes for-profit, they become a business. When in 2015, UBC decided to raise international tuition by 45 per cent, they made a decision to capitalize on a growing segment of international students.

And how, one might ask, are these future international students supposed to advocate for themselves when they’re at least a year away from stepping onto campus?

They can’t. And that’s the point. At risk of portraying UBC’s administration as sinister, I do believe that this decision was politically strategic. Current international students are already settled into life on campus and the three per cent increase — one per cent less for them — will be annoying in most cases, but not substantial enough to prompt a transfer to another institution

The other 74 per cent of UBC undergraduate students are domestic who would face relatively minimal increases of less than $200. That leaves exactly no one on campus who would face the $1,500 increase in the 2020/21 school year.

The very people impacted by the decision do not have a voice. At the very least, I think they’re entitled to representation. This responsibility should probably fall on the shoulders of our elected and paid student representatives in the AMS, but I’ve yet to see any activism on this issue. It’s great that the AMS runs a textbook affordability campaign every fall, and I don’t know about you, but my textbooks have never cost more than a fraction of $1,521.

At what point did the administration start prioritizing the accumulation of wealth over the maintenance of affordable access to education? And at what point did our elected student representatives give up the fight for our ever-inflating cost of attendance?

Marcella Muse is a sixth-year international relations student currently on exchange.