LETTER | To the UVic Board of Governors on international tuition hikes

Letters Opinions

*This letter was sent to the University of Victoria Board of Governors and shared with the Martlet.

Dear Board of Governors,

I am writing to you today in advance of your March 26 meeting, and out of a personal sense of both urgency and dismay. Recently I have learned that the University is proposing, yet again, to increase substantially the tuition fees of international students. While this decision would be fraught enough if it existed in isolation, the fact that this proposed increase comes only one year after the Board of Governors’ last tuition increase is, to be frank, absolutely reprehensible.

On this campus I wear many hats — student, teaching assistant, graduate representative, union member, etc. As a domestic student I will be saved the brunt of this decision; however, my sense of dismay is born out of these networks of relationship on campus — networks that are directly under threat as a consequence of these proposals.

In 2017 the decision was made to decouple international tuition from domestic. At the time and amidst vocal concerns from students, the University stated that this was a power that it did not intend to use except in moments of extreme need.

March 2018 put the lie to that statement: an increase in four per cent for international graduate students and 20 per cent for international undergraduates was passed by the Board, despite one of the most raucous student protests on campus in my own memory. But a convenient excuse was in the offing. While only one member of the Board had the courage to vote against the increases, many members stated that although they were uncomfortable with the tuition increases, they were voting with the budget to ensure that other elements — such as the Indigenous plan — made it through.

The decision of the Board to accept an omnibus budget that willfully pits Indigenous students against international students is, simply put, wrong.

This point bears at least two responses. First, as an abstract point of principle, the decision of the Board to accept an omnibus budget that willfully pits Indigenous students against international students is, simply put, wrong. As was stated from the audience, a line-item vote should have been demanded by the members of the Board — thereby passing the Indigenous plan and jettisoning the tuition hikes.

Second, it is farcical for the University to pretend that it can commit itself to reconciliation with Indigenous nations while increasing tuition on international students. We live and work on the occupied territories of the Coast Salish peoples, the border between Canada and America bifurcates those territories. Which means that, inevitably, these tuition increases will make it impossible for a Salish student — or other members of any Indigenous nation whose territories are divided by this imperial border — to attend this University simply because of the side of the border on which their family was trapped. This is an active entrenchment of colonialism.

Further still, at a time when xenophobia, racism, and white nationalism are resurgent across North America and Europe, a fiscal policy that targets international students provides a buttress for the sort of social alienation and separation in which mistrust and hatred thrive.

By repeatedly committing itself to a policy that regards international students not as human beings but only as an endless revenue stream, this University is, in effect, creating two tiers within our student body. I have seen the consequences of this already, as both a student and a teaching assistant.

The financial reality of skyrocketing tuition, coupled with almost hyper-inflated rent, means that international students are in incredibly precarious  positions.

Many international colleagues and students have privately reached out to express their increasing sense of helplessness. The financial reality of skyrocketing tuition, coupled with almost hyper-inflated rent, means that international students are in incredibly precarious  positions.

Moreover, these students easily recognize the fact that the University sees them only as dollar signs. This creates social atomization, born out of the fact that their moral worth on this campus has been degraded by the University’s fiscal policies, and this results in arbitrary barriers being constructed between domestic and international students.

Finally, the University repeatedly expresses its sense of itself as paragon of equity. It claims to be “committed to upholding the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our living, learning and work environments.” But I must say that this claim is hard to square with the reality of a proposal like this. Not only are inequities (of class, nationality, and colonial status) built into the very fabric of this proposed tuition hike, but as an educator, I can confidently say that adoption of these hikes will only further degrade the quality of education available to those who can still afford to attend this institution.

These massive tuition increases have the impact of transforming our student body; in effect, culling low-income international students from our classrooms. Not only do you thereby deprive students of access to the University on the basis of their class, but you also limit the diversity of perspectives and experiences to which the rest of your student body will actually be exposed. In effect, you ensure that this university is an echochamber for elite and privileged voices. These tuition hikes will only further turn this place into a barrier to meaningful equity and social justice.

I anticipate that you will make the right decision: vote against these proposed increases and, as a matter of equity, recouple international tuition with that of domestic students.

While I recognize that UVic is following trends set by other institutions, these proposed hikes do not feel as though they are in keeping with any of the five core principles of the International Plan (2017-2022), nor with the four guiding values of the Strategic Framework (2018-2023).

How does a university commit itself to “Making a World of Difference” if it justifies its decisions by going along with the trends set elsewhere — trends which we collectively know to be exploitative and pedagogically unsound? I do hope that you take the time to consider this letter and the sentiments that it expresses; while I speak only for myself, I speak from a position that reflects sentiments that I know are shared by colleagues throughout this institution.

I anticipate that you will make the right decision: vote against these proposed increases and, as a matter of equity, recouple international tuition with that of domestic students. Finally, I would appreciate a response to the specifics raised in this letter, as I know that I speak for many others when I say that each point deserves formal acknowledgement.

Sincerely,

Phil Henderson

PhD Candidate, Political Science and Indigenous Nationhood

Convener, Graduates in Political Science

Convener, Indigenous Research Workshop

VP Communications, Component 1, CUPE 4163