During the final week of the past fall semester, I had the chance to assist with the feedback discussion about the Trent International Program (TIP) review, undergone last year. Many issues came up and, as President of Trent International Students’ Association (TISA), I attempted to put forward our voice and opinion on the matter.
I believe that Trent University is transiting through an identity crisis. The university is lacking a united and strong vision that could lead to betterment in the future. A plethora of issues, from the Strategic Mandate Agreement to the search for a new president, provide evidence that Trent is in crisis and that the decisions taken today will have a paramount impact on our destiny as an educational institution.
This crisis is one of identity because the core of the problem stems from the uncertainty surrounding the path to follow. We seem unsure about our focus and objectives. I have experienced myself the lack of coordination between the different departments and groups on campus.
It is not uncommon to find discrepancies and contradictions between the very bodies that make up our institutional backbone. Are we a primarily undergraduate university? Are we a mainly liberal arts college? What is Trent known for? What makes us unique?
Times of crisis are also times of opportunities. This identity crisis that we encounter now can serve as an opportunity to find new aspects that make us unique and special, as well as to rediscover those aspects that made us great.
At this point, the international student body as well as TIP have historically been known for being one of the most active and important in the country. In the last few years, budget cuts have restricted TIP’s ability to recruit students from all corners of the world.
Furthermore, it has forced the program to substantially reduce funding to students that can’t otherwise achieve a higher level of education.
Early in the day, when Jack Matthews founded TIP, he and the university recognized that it was morally imperative to provide international students with scholarships. The reasoning behind this thinking was that international students are charged substantially more than domestic students and if the scholarship program was not put in place, the university would be seen as exploiting these students as cash cows.
Today, international students pay roughly $19,000, and tuition fees have steadily increased in the past few years. Notwithstanding, scholarships and job funding for international students have been seriously cut.
Now, you may be asking how is all this relevant? Well, you see, the international student body at Trent could be used as one of the pillars to make Trent unique and special compared to all the other Canadian universities.
The opportunity that this identity crisis provides is one that allows us to decide which way we want to go. You may not agree with me, but I believe that in today’s world, education cannot be clustered around a locality and homogenous group of people. Canada has been blessed with millions of immigrants who call this country their home, and who contribute in the building and consolidation of Canada as one of the best places to live.
The more diverse the perspectives encountered, the more you expand your worldview, which would certainly increase the quality of your education. Reducing funding to TIP will reduce scholarships and the diversity of the international student body because TIP has to reduce their recruiting options not only geographically, but also to those regions that can afford to pay for such education.
This discussion can be taken even further to debate the idea of universities as places for the construction of ideas, or as places where we are trained to join the workforce. I think education is about expanding your worldview, about encountering thoughts and ideas that never crossed your mind before, and about meeting people as diverse as possible.
If Trent chooses to actively support and make their international program one of the best in the country, the reputation and unique flavour this would entail could set Trent apart from the rest.
It’s time to make a decision, Trent. Choose well.