International students needed more financial support in the past, and they need support now

Structural factors that make self-funded education a requirement are creating precarity during the pandemic

Organizing social events isn’t enough for students worried about how to pay for basic necessities. Image courtesy of SFU.

By: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer

Although another remote semester in the fall is a bummer for everyone, it’s especially difficult for the international students who are still paying the same outrageous tuition fees as they did for in-person classes. These students are being hit particularly hard by our current university circumstances. International students make up about a quarter of SFU’s total student body — our university would be sunk without them. Now, with so many international student lives cast into chaos by COVID-19, the structural flaws in how SFU supports them have become even more apparent, and it is imperative that SFU does everything it can to make its international students’ lives easier. 

As of right now, SFU’s “support” for international students is scarce. While some attempts at virtual socialization have been introduced like the Global Community Cafe via Zoom, it’s not enough to address the real hardships international students are facing. Truly, the best way to support international students now — as well as in the long term — is for SFU to implement structural changes. This starts with a tuition cap, as well as an increase in financial aid and more bursaries for which permanent residence is not an eligibility requirement. 

For the most part, international students can only work up to 20 hours a week while studying. With most low-wage, part-time jobs this isn’t a livable arrangement, especially in Greater Vancouver. Now, with the massive job insecurity brought on by COVID-19, in addition to the fact that international students living in Canada may not have a family to live at home with, financial stress on many international students is at emergency levels. 

The uncertainty and insecurity in both jobs and housing puts international students between a rock and a hard place during this pandemic. This is particularly because they aren’t eligible for BC’s student support funds either. But SFU could step in here to really help support the international students who are struggling, by increasing scholarship and bursary opportunities. It’s as simple as expanding existing eligibility to students who aren’t permanent residents, but who are just as much a part of the SFU community as domestic students and should be allowed to apply for the same awards. 

Keep in mind that part of the reason why international students are in this financial pickle to begin with is because SFU takes advantage of the fact that the provincial government does not impose a tuition cap for international students. In the spring of 2019, SFU increased the tuition of a majority of its programs by 12% for international students — with business courses increasing by an incredible 20%.

Clearly, so many financial aspects of being an international student at SFU were problematic before the global pandemic. The international student program is not structurally designed to be supportive to those who don’t have massive amounts of financial support already backing them — a shameful reality that promotes classism and economic inequality. Particularly at this time, when job options are restricted and some can’t travel home, international students need extra help from SFU in order to continue learning and growing at this institution. 

While workshops and virtual events are fun, real help is needed: more financial aid opportunities is an important and beneficial step. And, you know, maybe consider a tuition freeze on international student fees so a quarter of our community isn’t overburdened in an emergency situation again in the future.