The province of BC has opened its doors for international students to access education in the province, with former Premier Christy Clark pushing to increase international student enrollment in BC by 50 percent back in 2011.
The quality and expense of that education has recently been in the spotlight, however.
The BC Federation of Students (BCFS) has found international student fees have risen 600 percent since 1991, leaving many international students struggling to come up with the necessary funds to pay for schooling and the high cost of living in Canada.
Under the BCFS, the VIU Students’ Union (VIUSU) has been working for a number of years on the Fairness for International Students campaign to help fight for a cap on increasing international student fees.
The Fairness website says there is currently a 2 percent annual cap on domestic tuition that was regulated in 2005 under the Tuition Fee Limit Policy.
For international students, there is no cap. They must go to school knowing that their tuition could change at any time as their tuition stays unregulated.
To raise awareness and provide a space for VIU international students to be heard, VIUSU will be hosting a Fairness Fire event on March 23 from 11 am to 1 pm outside the VIU Library on the Nanaimo campus.
International students are invited to sit around the fires and share their experiences at VIU. Topics of conversation may include challenges faced related to finances, on-campus issues, and student supports.
The event will be filmed and the stories of consenting students will be shared to policy makers at VIU and BC, as well as through VIUSU’s social media accounts.
Siddhanth Arikari came to VIU from Oman in 2018 to also study Digital Media Studies. The tuition difference for international students and domestic students came as a shock for him.
“Coming to Canada, I knew my fees would be high anyway, but seeing the difference in fees for international students compared to domestic fees was a shock to say the least,” Arikari said.
According to the VIU Office of University Planning and Analysis, in the 2020/2021 school year, international students made up 15 percent of the total student body yet are paying nearly double what domestic students pay.
For Arikari, he can only work 20 hours a week on his visa which makes it sometimes a strain to pay the bills.
“There is no way I would be able to pay close to 10K every four months for my education while living, studying and only being able to work 20 hours a week. My dad pays for my tuition and only the family knows the kind of financial strain it brings. I try to earn money for my day-to-day expenses here,” Arikari said. “At first, finding part time work does not seem like a big deal. But I soon realized not having the flexibility of even a couple hours increase has costed [my job].”
“Employers of minimum wage jobs are usually not considerate of international students and their rules,” he added.
In addition to the Fairness Fire, VIUSU has been working hard to bring attention to the issue—and has seen some real results.
VIUSU made its presence known at a VIU Board of Governors meeting in February, 2020, with international students and domestic students alike coming together to protest the proposed tuition increase to the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.
The proposal passed, but VIU policy makers must have heard the message. This past December, the Board decided to keep the annual increase of international student tuition in line with that of domestic students at 2%, saying the decision came from an “equity and fairness perspective.”
The VIU brass were not the only ones pressured into a change. In a March 16 presentation to the BCFS on international education in the province, the BC Ministry of Advanced Education said they will mandate institutions be up front with the cost of international students’ education throughout their degree—meaning a student will know the cost of their education though the full lifetime of their degree.
This requirement will better allow international students in BC to prepare financially for their degrees, without having to worry about sudden increases. The mandate will do nothing to address the affordability issue, however, as international students will not be included with domestic students in the Tuition Fee Limit Policy, as of this time.
There is a Google Form for international students to fill out to register for the Fairness Fire event. Even if a student doesn’t wish to attend, they may share stories about their time as a student at VIU in written format via the form.
Right now, international students are paying more than their fair share.