The sudden shuttering of the global economy took a toll on nations worldwide. Businesses were forced to shut down, people lost their jobs and homes, and many are continuing to struggle to make ends meet.
International students are facing these challenges just as gravely. Despite popular belief, not all international students come from financially well-off backgrounds. Many families worked hard to earn enough money to provide a better education for their children. The majority of international students come from middle-class families that work by the hour to pay the minimum tuition payment. This does not invalidate the domestic students’ financial struggles; however, the difference in the tuition fee takes a considerable toll on international students’ families.
Since 2019, individual course fees have increased by almost $1000. In 2018, the average Humanities course fee was approximately $4900 per course, which increased to roughly $5200 in 2019, and is now approximately $5500. International students in Canada make up about 13 per cent of the student population. Most nations worldwide chargeinternational students a higher fee than domestic students; however, the difference in Canada is that, on average,international fees are at least three times as much as domestic fees. At UofT, the difference is almost 10 times the domestic price.
The majority of classes will be conducted virtually this semester, and students will not receive the same quality of university life. The increase in tuition fees will not only cause financial strain on international students, but it also exposes the university’s neglect of international students’ needs.
Year after year, the UTMSU and the student population have signed petitions, joined rallies, hosted marches and walkouts, all in the name of reducing tuition fees. The fight against high tuition fees for international students has been an excellent campaigning strategy but is seemingly more of a token battle to generate conversation and debate. If other universities in Canada can lower the international fees by three to five times while maintaining the subsidized fees for domestic students, why can’t U of T?
Moreover, the university’s indecision on how the 2020-21 academic year will proceed is another barrier for international students. Apart from the class size restriction set out by the government, the decision on whether classes will be conducted online or in-person has been left up to professors and individual departments. This mixture of in-person, online synchronous, or online asynchronous methods has forced many international students to forego courses they wanted due to travel restrictions. There are many nations worldwide that have yet to lift travel bans or open borders to allow incoming travel from other nations. Students that returned to their home countries amid the pandemic must either stay in their countries or risk the chance of not being able to return once they come to Canada. This has led many to choose only online courses.
On the other hand, the faculty of arts and science at the St. George campus made the decision earlier this year that the entire academic year will be conducted online. Despite the potential challenges that decision brings, it allowed both students and faculty to plan for the year and determine accommodations for the new learning environment. Yet, the indecision among different departments at UTM has led to confusion and added stress for domestic and international students alike.
Furthermore, the majority of programs selected for the online delivery method have selected online synchronous. While this decision ensured a somewhat class-like environment where the professors can speak directly to students and ensure participation and interactive activities, it poses quite a challenge for international students living in different time zones. Time zone differences can vary anywhere from six to 15 hours. This barrier creates another restriction on the courses students can choose from as they have to decide which classes will ensure a time zone match and are not be detrimental to their health. If students have to stay up all night to do synchronous daytime classes, it can cause a rift in their sleep and eating schedules and squanders the possibilities for them to communicate with classmates and professors promptly. This not only may affect their mental health but could also hinder their academic performance.
These problems are only a few of many that international students have encountered this year amid the pandemic. Several of these concerns are ones that students have faced for many years as well. Considering how international students make up a significant portion of the undergraduate student body at UTM, it is crucial to acknowledge their struggles and assess and implement strategies that can accommodate them. This has been an incredibly turbulent and challenging year for everyone. Instead of being divisive and excluding people out of conversations, let’s find comfort in the fact that this is a shared struggle for many of us. Together, through collaboration and accommodations, we can begin to overcome the challenges students face amid the COVID-19 pandemic.