University of Victoria students are speaking out against a series of decisions made by the school’s board of governors, including a 15 per cent tuition increase for international students.
A list of demands put together by a grassroots group of UVic students including student governments, asks the board to reinstate a pre-2017 equity-based internal tuition policy that coupled international tuition raises to domestic tuition in what students called a “fiscally sound” policy that “manifested a serious desire for equity.”
“The university had committed itself to a really great equity policy that international students wouldn’t be treated any differently than domestic students,” said Phil Henderson, a student who joined a rally to protest the board’s decisions on Tuesday.
Henderson noted in 2017 that coupling was withdrawn, and since then international tuition increased 20 per cent – with another 15 per cent approved at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
“A lot of [international students] are really scraping by,” Henderson said. “That dire situation is only compounded by Victoria’s very serious housing crisis and highly restrictive visas that limit when and where they can work.”
Henderson, along with many other students opposing the hike, isn’t an international student but said the increase points to bigger questions around equality.
“I’m a student on this campus and I don’t like the idea that there’s fiscal segregation – somebody who sits across the table from me in class or in a lab is being treated differently simply on the basis of where they’re born,” he said. “We don’t allow that kind of discrimination to occur elsewhere in our society and I’m not sure why we allow that as a fiscal policy.”
Domestic students are protected by a provincial tuition cap, but Henderson said the school’s willingness to increase tuition for students who aren’t protected shows that anyone is vulnerable.
“We have a real obligation to stand with the groups that are the most marginalized, not just because they’re marginalized but because we recognize that this is a sign [the board] might do this to all of us if they were allowed to.”
UVic has said its plans to raise international tuition have been public for three years, and its undergraduate international tuition fees are “currently below those of its peers.”
In an emailed statement, Gayle Gorrill, UVic’s vice-president of finance and operations, said international students are required to have the financial ability to study in Canada.
“We know that for some students there are unexpected circumstances once they are at UVic. That’s why we are committed to providing bursaries to eligible students who have a demonstrated need, whether they are international or domestic students,” she said.
Many students sat in on the Tuesday board meeting, which eventually relocated to a private location after angry outbursts from the crowd.
Students then stayed in the chambers overnight to “reclaim their space” within the institution.
“We understand that students are passionate about their education and it’s important to the university that students have the opportunity to express their views,” Gorrill continued. “It’s unfortunate that these important conversations were not able to continue in an open meeting where students could hear the various perspectives of board members.”
Other student demands include increasing student representation on the board of governors and committing to “meaningful financial accountability” that divests from fossil fuel investments.
Henderson said many students are angry that the school has money invested “in the very industry that is exasperating global climate catastrophes that are forcing people from their homes on an international scale.”
Students are working with Divest Victoria, the local chapter of a national group advocating for institutions and municipalities to divest from fossil fuels and focus local money on socially responsible investments.
The UVic foundation reaffirmed its decision in 2016 not to divest or sell investments related to oil, gas and coal in its main investment fund, but created a fossil-fuel-free fund that “allows donors to have new gifts invested in ways that reflect their personal beliefs about sustainability, environmental stewardship and climate change.” The university has contributed $25,000 to that fund.