Senate discusses how bursaries should be distributed for international undergraduate students

At the senate meeting on February 4, Simon Fraser University senators reviewed their annual report on scholarships, awards, and bursaries for the 2017–18 fiscal year.

According to the 2017–18 financial report, the university has disbursed approximately $2.38 million and $2.23 million in bursaries for international undergraduate students and domestic undergraduate students, respectively.

Senator Daniel Leznoff commented that currently, there is a policy at SFU where approximately 25% of international students’ tuition fees go back to the university’s bursaries program for international students. Leznoff then asked: “Is there any consideration in the committee or elsewhere in the administration to reconsider this policy?”

Stephen Spector, acting chair for senate policy committee on scholarships, awards and bursaries responded: “The simple answer at this point is no. However, it is something that can be brought forward for consideration.”

In a follow-up interview with The Peak, Wade Parkhouse, vice-provost and associate vice-president academic, commented that the 25% redistribution of international tuition fees is not really a policy, but more so “a practice/commitment which the administration has made the last number of years and next year in terms of tuition [sic].”

“SFU continues to commit that 25% of the international undergraduate tuition revenue beyond the general fee increase of 2%, will be designated toward international student support and services,” said Parkhouse in the email interview.

Parkhouse further commented that as international tuition has increased at SFU, the intention of providing bursaries is to help international students, especially those who come from poorer parts of the world where paying tuition in Canadian dollars can be an obstacle for them.

Leznoff then suggested that it would be worthwhile to compile a list of where these bursary recipients are originally from.

“The international student body is not as diverse internationally as we would like it to be if the majority of the bursaries are going to the majority of the students from certain countries. That is not achieving that goal and the money could be used by, for example, domestic students,“ said Leznoff. “It’s unclear to me that the bursaries are attracting the best and the brightest.”

Senator Pablo Nepomnaschy also agreed with Leznoff that the university should give a breakdown of where these bursaries are going to, specifically, the recipients’ ethnicity.

Manoj Bhakthan, SFU director of financial aid and awards, however, noted that bursaries are provided to students on a needs-based and they’re not meant to identify students based on their academics or community service involvements. He also shared that bursaries are typically disbursed at the middle of the term just to help the students finish off their semester, and it’s typically “never enough to cover all of their expenses and needs.”

“Ideally, the impact of the bursaries is to help any students, international or domestic to be able to fund their education or at least provide a little bit of funding to support them. It’s not meant to support any other additional tuition fees,” said Bhakthan.  

Spector also agreed with Bhakthan that bursaries should be provided on a needs-based basis. “Bursaries [are] not for attracting the best and the brightest. It’s often the case [for] students who are in less desirable financial straits that we enable them to stay at the university.”