“Lets talk about the future for international students.”
This was the description of the “Lets Talk!” event, which was part of the TCSA’s Fairness for International Students week. The event sought to provide a safe space for a much-needed discussion on issues affecting international students on campus and across Ontario.
Set in the Reid Morton Room with the comfort of hot chocolate, international students discussed issues ranging from representation in university and decision making institutions, issues with “othering” and language barriers, permanent residency, tuition fees, and UHIP.
Students agreed they lacked representation in institutions that were making decisions that affected them, including within the university’s programmes themselves. They argued that representatives in both government institutions and the Trent International Program were doing a poor job in actually translating international student needs and taking them into account in decision-making.
International students are rarely engaged in discussions that address their needs and concerns, especially with those who have the duty to represent them. Without creating a space for these concerns to be addressed, representatives remain alienated from the very people that they are supposed to give a voice to.
In addition to this lack of adequate representation in government and university institutions, students were specifically concerned with the new permanent residency (PR) laws.
Students vocally expressed their disapproval of this new system, which creates additional barriers to a PR by placing recent graduates in the same applicant pool as a global labour force. Individuals who attended a Canadian higher education institution with intentions of entering the Canadian labour force upon graduation are specifically affected, and feel threatened by these changes, which no longer prioritize the international student population.
International students also addressed the stigma that they are often held to when discussing these financial issues.
The general assumption that international students don’t contribute to the economy is not only flawed, but also creates the basis for arguments against fairness for international students in terms of tuition, employment, PR, and medical coverage. In Ontario alone, for example, international students contribute a yearly amount of three billion dollars to the Canadian economy.
This substantial amount goes unrecognized, as the dominant discourse surrounding these students is that they come to Canada to get a degree and then go home with a Canadian skill set and education, without contributing their fair share to the economy.
Not only do international students contribute to the economy while still in university, but many choose to stay and work in Canada.
However, with the new permanent residency laws, the number of international students who can actually stay in Canada and continue contributing to the country’s economy may dwindle.
One of the most significant economic contributions that international students make is through skyrocketing tuition fees, which are scheduled to increase an additional 7% this coming academic year.
Not only do international students pay three times than what domestic students pay for the same education, but ongoing budget cuts to the Trent International Program further exacerbate economic problems.
Budget cuts to such a program mean that there is less scholarship money available and there are less TIP-funded jobs available on campus. This means that economic support for international students is steadily decreasing, while the cost of education is substantially increasing. This places a large financial strain on these students.
Lastly, the issue of cultural and language barriers were discussed.
There is a fine line between being considered a ‘friend’ and an ‘international friend’. Although cultural differences are something to be acknowledged and respected, these differences should not be the defining feature of a person or a relationship. Focusing on the differences makes international students something exotic, separate, and foreign, which consequently alienates them.
Students also expressed concern for ESL students, or simply individuals who spoke English as a second language and therefore struggled to express themselves. Language barriers are evident in the challenges they pose to communication, however, accents, incorrect grammar, and difficulty to grasp concepts in English often translate into an image of inferiority and ignorance.
However, just because a person’s English is not perfect, they should not be deemed as less intelligent, analytical, or competent, but should be admired for learning a second (or third, or fourth) language. In their native language, these individuals may be perceived as highly gifted, communicative, and knowledgeable. However, just because they struggle to express their thoughts within a specific system of communication does not mean that they have nothing to communicate.
International students face numerous challenges abroad in order to have access to respectable higher education institutions like Trent University. The international student commissioner’s intention with Fairness for International Students has been to shed light on these issues, provide a space for discussion, and raise awareness on pressing concerns that affect the international student body.