International students need a designated MASU councillor position to represent their interests

Mar 07, 2018 Saurabh Kulkarni

As an international student who came here four years ago, I believe that Mount Allison provides world-class education and experiences. This belief is challenged by the lack of representation of the “global” population of Mt. A, something that has been an important part of the conversation about inclusivity at the University. The 10 per cent of the student population that comes from over 54 countries for this world-class education are subjected to paying over double the tuition fees. International students also pay equal membership fees to the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) and yet find that they have no representation on the council. MASU has designated positions for various academic and demographic representatives on the council, which includes academic senators, board of regents representative and first-year councillor. Many of the 250 international students that find minimal representation on the MASU share a feeling of alienation from the student government, and so tend to not be active in student politics and events.

International students face unique challenges, some of which are English as a second language, the inability to have a gap year or gap semester, and restrictions on work hours. There is also a visible gap in the interactions between domestic and international students because of the lack of involvement and interest in the international community’s events from the local population. These challenges are on top of the intense academic and social pressure faced by all university students. These issues require attention from the MASU, but remain distant because of the lack of a representative to bring them forward.

International students pay $17,250 per year in tuition, compared to the rate of $7,995 paid by Canadian students. Louis Sobol/Argosy

In the past, the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) has had a designated international student councillor. However, this position was converted into an ad hoc group assigned to work on the issues faced by international students. This was done because many of the previous councillors felt that SAC was neither able to understand the gravity of the problems nor relate to them. The ad hoc committee was dissolved after two years. The potential for re-introduction of this position was brought to a halt because of the structural readjustment of the council a few years ago. In 2015, the international student affairs coordinator position has been created (a staff position under VP Student Life) to fill the void. However, due to the limited liaison role and the absence of an international affairs committee on the MASU, this position is restricted in its functionality.

This is not to discount the fact that, in recent years, the MASU has successfully resolved the issue of international students’ access to provincial healthcare and is working toward resolving the inability of international students to obtain provincial identification. All of the work put in by the executive of the MASU is worth great praise and gratitude. However, on a broader level, other universities in New Brunswick (such as UNB and St. Thomas), as well as other English universities in Atlantic Canada, have designated international student councillors that work toward bringing these issues to light on their respective councils. This ultimately facilitates the executive in doing their job more effectively.

For all the reasons mentioned, combined with the need for increased awareness about this issue within the MASU and in the general student population, it is important that a voting International Student Councillor position be introduced. This will help the MASU and the University to take a step closer in working toward diversity inclusion and equitable student representation.