SFU’s financial aid falls short of helping international students

The Financial Aid department needs to up their game

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A student is in a booth, running their hand over their forehead. A laptop is open in front of them, decorated with stickers. They look stressed about broad circumstance, which is not helped by whatever they’re seeing on-screen.
Financial aid is nice, but really doesn’t measure up to the problem of academic fees. PHOTO: Tim Gouw / Unsplash

By: Tamanna T., Staff Writer

University is very freaking expensive. As an international fourth-year Arts and Social Sciences student, I pay between $12,000 to $13,000 every semester. That’s a large sum of money. The stress of every tuition deadline starts wreaking havoc in most middle-class homes once enrollment dates are out. Amidst all the tension, bursary applications open up, and the students are reminded of the financial restraints of university life. Despite reverently applying for bursaries and grants, do they help much? As an international student, not really. 

Bursary applications are due in the last month of every semester, right when exams are about to begin, so it’s hard enough to remember to apply in the first place. Even if you do manage to apply on time, students don’t hear back until the middle of the next semester — right in the thick of midterm season. This bursary system clearly doesn’t consider students’ mental health, because the timings of these deadlines are atrocious. 

The amount offered by bursaries, grants, and scholarships is not enough to ease the financial burden on students. Most of the international students I know have taken additional student loans — sponsored by their home country — to financially sustain themselves in Canada. Still, some of these students remain ineligible for financial aid.

In my experience, I have usually used the amount given by these awards to pay for bills and maybe groceries, but it has never really helped much in regards to tuition. While financial aid is much appreciated, the majority of awards are under $1,000 — barely enough to cover a month’s rent, let alone university costs. 

Bursaries and awards are described as “a supplemental source of funding” that is intended to help students financially. If you ask me, they fail to do that in an impactful way, even for domestic students whose tuition generally caps out around $4,000 a semester. SFU bursaries and awards fall short in de-stressing students facing financial issues. 

A different, more efficient, system is needed to assist students experiencing financial strain. A great start would be to start offering bursaries earlier in the semester, rather than in the middle of midterm season. This would help students manage their finances and costs in a better headspace, and avoid existing in precarity until week seven, wondering if they’re going to get financial aid at all. 

Currently, international students engage with the same financial aid system as domestic students. There really needs to be a separate process for international students, which assesses financial needs according to the amount of tuition they pay.  

This could require more proof of financial distress, and in many cases this should be feasible. While this offloads some work onto students, a more robust financial aid system might allow a student to survive off only two jobs, as opposed to three or more. Though this is still a lot of work, it would be an improvement over the current conditions for international students.

With SFU’s continued operating surpluses, students could be getting better and more consistent funding to help them remain enrolled and study with a bit more ease. It is high time that better assessment is done with each application to evaluate individual needs, as well as addressing what SFU can provide as financial awards to the student. If there is a tuition hike every consecutive year, why doesn’t the amount of awards and bursaries provided also increase?