Graduate student societies (GSSs) from the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities informally met on November 10, 2020, to discuss how to coordinate federal advocacy initiatives relevant to graduate programs at research-intensive universities. This collaboration is loosely based on the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU).
Several common concerns have already been identified through our inaugural meeting, which include.
- Challenges faced by international students still abroad
- International student work permits and pathways to immigration in Canada
- Mental health supports across cultural and linguistic groups
- Tri-Council funding packages
President seanor is excited to be part of a sub-committee that will be coordinating to draft a letter to the federal government intending to:
1) draw attention to unique needs and contribution of graduate students,
2) highlight how the pandemic has impacted graduate students, and
3) outline solutions and actions for federal government to provide relief and support for graduate students.
Read the full report HERE.
SOGS is deeply concerned by the increases to international graduate student tuition this 2020-2021 academic year. These tuition increases ranged from 2-15% and were approved by the University’s Board of Governors last April. Furthermore, international graduate students were not notified of these planned increases in a timely manner, which impacted their ability to make arrangements to financially plan or compensate for this increase. For example, Master’s of Engineering students saw a 15% increase and saw no additional value added to their student experience and professional development at Western University to account for the increase.
In order to get answers and find solutions, the Society wrote a letter to Western University’s President, Dr. Alan Shepard, on October 26, 2020. This letter outlined the Society’s concerns regarding these international tuition increases and was copied to Western University’s Vice-Provosts, Secretary, and Deans who oversee graduate studies, as well as the President of the University Students’ Council, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Western Gazette.
SOGS has requested that the administration formally:
- Provide targeted financial support for international students in programs that saw a tuition increase this year.
- Distribute additional information regarding access to student financial aid.
- Provide a report outlining the decision-making process behind the tuition increase.
- Create a committee with graduate student representation to review the collaboration of SGPS and the Faculties to support incoming students and reduce the service gaps on campus.
- Consult with international graduate students about their experiences and the support they would expect from a university of Western’s calibre.
- Provide a formal response to this letter by the end of November 2020.
Read the letter here.
The following update summarizes the ongoing work to further respond to concerns our international members have shared regarding tuition increases.
Dr. Siddiqui—Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Western Engineering—has kindly responded to a series of questions we shared with him around the decision to increase Masters of Engineering tuition 15% within one year. In summary:
- The decision was part of a multi-year plan to bring Western’s tuition costs inline with comparable university programs.
- Tuition estimates are shared with incoming students based on previous year costs. Engineering is working with SGS to improve this method.
- The increase was decided before the pandemic hit, but the costs were maintained given the costs to adapt to online teaching environments.
- Masters of Engineering is a self-funded program, so any additional funding/supports are managed through SGPS or other sources.
These additional details are underwhelming to say the least, but still appreciated for helping to identify service gaps to address. These responses have been shared with the Graduate Engineering Society in full to ensure transparency and to invite their thoughts on next steps.
Linda Miller has committed to following up with Glen Tigert, University Registrar, and Ruban Chelladurai, Associate VP (Planning, Budgeting & Information Technology), about how, and when, the additional funding Western committed in this year’s budget will be allocated to students.
Our ongoing and impending efforts on international students’ concerns are:
- Reached out to Lise Laporte at Western international to ask about additional supports and future collaborations to address this issue;
- Bringing a motion to Council to ensure any further efforts are completed with the weight of Council’s vote behind them;
- Working with university contacts to try to get late fees waived for international students;
- Working with our Committees and the Canadian Federation of Students to get a better sense of what other universities have been doing about tuition during COVID;
- Working with the Canadian Federation of Students to identify additional opportunities for advocacy and escalation;
- Reviewing our own processes to improve our ability to advocate promptly and proactively.
We’d like to once again offer our sympathies to our international members both for the frustrating situation they’re in, and for the time required to identify and implement appropriate responses.
Multiple students brought forward concerns about international tuition fees. Preliminary research has found that moderate tuition increases were approved for international master’s programs in the spring and Western University has decided to maintain these approved tuition commitments. A key exception is that the Master’s of Engineering degree was approved a 15% increase.
The response from the university has primarily been to emphasize that tuition rates are proposed by faculties. Additionally, the university has committed an additional $13.5 million of financial support through “needs-based bursaries, work-study opportunities, summer research opportunities, and residence accommodation subsidies.”
These responses remain frustrating given the precarity our international students face. These responses are, nonetheless, understandable given the complexity of university affairs and the number of units involved in budgeting processes.
We’ve identified the following next steps:
- Reach out to Engineering to get additional information;
- Collaborate with SGPS to promote, and improve, subsidies and bursaries;
- Identify/research responses at other universities;
- Advocate through governmental and student advocacy contacts (e.g. CFS); and,
- Review, confirm, and strengthen our own supports.
If you would like to learn more, please see our attached preliminary report here