International students not receiving enough support

With the U of M approaching the end of the first term of the 2020-21 academic year, there have been discussions surrounding the challenges of remote learning. While this is an important discussion to have, it seems like international students have been left out of the conversation.

International students comprise about 20 per cent of the student body population and pay over three times as much as domestic undergraduate students in tuition. Yet, they have not received much additional support this academic year.

Instead, they have been forced to pay more and are receiving less.

On top of already unfair conditions, the 2020-21 academic year has created significant adversity for those studying abroad. Students have faced uncertain border restrictions, rising tuition costs for a lower-quality education and the option of either living far from family during a pandemic or attempting to complete the year in a different time zone.

At the beginning of the pandemic, international students faced immense stress and uncertainty in the midst of final exams. Many international students living in student residences were forced to leave their dorms at the end of April despite having nowhere else to go due to travel restrictions.

While the university’s residence director, Barry Stone, attempted to show flexibility — supposedly granting many extensions for students who needed more time to find housing — student residence was unable to accommodate everyone given restrictions that limited university residence’s capacity.

It’s difficult to blame the university for that challenging situation. Still, it is just another example of the added stresses that many international students have faced during this pandemic. And the lack of support from the university has certainly not helped.

One of the most pressing issues that international students face are the rising tuition fees during an economic recession.

Last academic year, international and domestic students’ tuition rose by 3.75 per cent. Similarly, the U of M rose tuition fees by an average of 3.75 per cent for the 2020-21 academic year. While these were only a small increases for many domestic students due to already low tuition, it’s a dramatic increase for international students. Especially considering many students reported having difficulties finding work this past summer.

Although many domestic students couldn’t find a job this past summer, many were able to apply for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) or the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). International students were left out of these programs, and many of their home countries did not supply sufficient wage subsidies during this trying time.

This is just another added cost to what seems like relentless yearly increases of expenses for international students. For example, private health insurance was made mandatory in 2018 due to Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives’ (PC) repeal of a clause that ensured international students were covered under universal health care. Although the repeal of this clause was reprehensible, the raise of tuition fees during an already tumultuous period in many peoples’ lives displays the U of M administration’s complete lack of empathy.

On top of financial stress, some international students have to deal with remote learning in a different time zone.

These students may have chosen to stay in their home countries for a variety of reasons. Financial stress, anxiety about leaving their families during a public health crisis and travel restrictions — that have only recently been lifted for international students — have all played roles in preventing students from returning to Winnipeg for the year.

This has made learning even more challenging than it already was for international students facing a plethora of difficult restraints on their ability to learn at their full capacity.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) recently conducted a study that found while most students prefer live lectures over a video conferencing app, many international students have reported difficulty taking remote classes in a different time zone.

This lack of support is despite the fact that international students contribute significantly to both the university’s revenue and to the provincial economy.

Last year, international students’ fees at the U of M comprised around 40 per cent of total tuition revenue despite making up only about 20 per cent of the student body population. A 2016 study in Manitoba found that international students across the province contributed $374 million to the economy and $69 million to provincial tax revenue.

Considering this, it is perplexing that the university and the province are not doing more to support international students.

The university should be offering additional financial support for international students who are facing hardships. Although some international students qualify for scholarships, they need to do more.

The university could also consider covering the health insurance fees in the second term to provide some monetary relief.

Mandating professors to provide exam accommodations for international students that are currently living in a different time zone would also work to ease some of their stress.

With rising tuition fees, the challenges of remote learning and the added stress of a potential strike this term, international students must be supported.

Otherwise, it has the potential to harm the students, the university’s budget and even the provincial economy.