The gap between international and domestic students is growing. While Mount Allison’s international students pay an unsubsidized sum twice the rate of what domestic students pay, a recent tuition increase means they will now pay that, plus almost $1,500 more than their Canadian counterparts.
Tuition for international students has increased $1,206 as of this year’s budget. The 7.9 per cent increase has frustrated students and raised questions about the treatment of international students at Mt. A.
“It gives us that feeling that international students are cash cows,” said Rénelle John, a third-year student and president of MOSAIC, which stands for the Multicultural Organization and Social Arena for International Cooperation.
By contrast, tuition for Canadian students increased by 3 per cent to $7,462. With international tuition sitting at $16,421, international students now pay double, plus an additional $1,493.
Chris Milner, Mt. A’s budget officer, said in an email that, “New Brunswick universities are not funded for international students and the university spends additional resources to meet the needs of these students, such as the international office.”
But some international students said they have not seen their rising tuition benefit them in any specific ways.
“We are paying the increase but we are getting nothing back in return,” said Allen Wang, a fourth-year commerce student from Beijing, China.
This substantial hike in tuition has received little attention on campus for various reasons.
Most of the international students who spoke to The Argosy were unaware of the tuition increase. Those who were had not expressed their discontent publicly.
“We can’t do anything about it. We have to do what it takes because we are here for four years,” Wang said. “I can’t help the situation.”
Wang felt that even if international students had voiced their opinions and concerns, it would not have mattered because the administration already increased their tuition.
The lack of public response by international students to the tuition increase arguably points to some of the other problems they face, including social isolation from other students.
The international student population is slightly smaller than the advertised 10 per cent, sitting instead at 9.4 per cent of the Mt. A student body.
As of Oct. 1, 220 international students from more than 50 countries attend Mt. A. (Some Mt. A students pay domestic tuition but identify as international. It is difficult to calculate the number of these students.)
With international students in many university advertisements, and flags hung up at Jennings Dining Hall, Mt. A points to its 50-plus countries represented as evidence of its diversity. But according to some students, the figure is misleading.
While the university does have students hailing from over 50 countries, the fact remains that 90 per cent of the total student population is Canadian.
John also raised questions regarding the type of diversity to which the university refers.
“The university is promoting a certain experience, and the question is whether the university delivers that experience for international students once they arrive,” said Morgan Poteet, a sociology professor. “There is a discrepancy there for all students, and definitely for international students.”
The ethnic homogeneity of Mt. A closely resembles that of Atlantic Canada, where an overwhelming majority of people are white.
This surprised some international students, while others both expected and embraced it.
“For a lot of people, the reason they are doing an exchange is to experience a type of locality,” said Youji Cheng, a second-year chemistry student from Xiamen, China.
Despite the student body’s lack of diversity compared to those of other universities in Canada, Ron Byrne, vice-president of international and student affairs, recently suggested that Mt. A will seek to cap its international enrollment between 10 and 15 per cent.
One reason Byrne gave for the enrollment cap was the preservation of what he sees as an identity particular to a place like Mt. A.
Speaking at an unofficial faculty council meeting (it had failed to meet quorum), Byrne spoke informally, saying, “In a small community like Mount Allison, it’s important that students have a Canadian university experience.”
Byrne said that if the percentage of international students exceeded a certain point, international students would face more difficulty integrating socially, learning English, and succeeding academically.
But some are skeptical of this.
“I’m not sure that argument holds,” Poteet said. “If there are any questions about whether programs are going to be [able] to accommodate that many students, I think that international students they certainly contribute more financially than they take away.”
Mt. A offers several programs to aid international students, including the international centre, as well as the orientation and mentorship programs. Student-run societies like MOSAIC also cater to international students. Other services come in less targeted spaces.
“For me, my social life started in the meal hall,” Cheng said. “Right now, a lot of my good friends are from my core courses or from the same research group.”
Although international students voiced support for the programs in place at Mt. A, others point to cultural issues as barriers for international students to integrate.
“We don’t know why, but for some reason there is this gap between international students interacting with Canadian students,” said Samantha Peña, a third-year student from Ecuador and the vice-president of MOSAIC.
Poteet recently completed a study exploring the integration of international students into Maritime universities. While he recognized the cultural barriers for international students, he cautioned against using general terms.
“We don’t want to jump to conclusions and say international students aren’t integrating well,” Poteet said. “That’s a big statement.”
According to several international students, the ability to integrate depends on their English proficiency, cultural background, and upbringing.
“If you are not from a very multicultural background, I think it would be a bit harder for you to integrate socially,” said Jeehan Jawed, a third-year religious studies student from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
While some students like Jawed have said they did not find bridging the cultural gap particularly difficult, others did.
“In my four years here, I would say it’s very difficult for international students to break into the Canadian circle,” Wang said. “My best friends are international. We have much more to talk about because we have known the same difficulties.”
With the differing experiences of its international community, Mt. A will look to continue its goal of internationalization.
“I feel comfortable that we have done a number of things in the last number of years to move us forward, but there is no way we can relax,” Byrne said. “That work is a continual evolvement.”