Open Letter from International Student Caucus

 Subject: Equity for International Students 

International Students currently make up 27.2% (1) of graduate students at Queen’s University, and form a critical part of its academic makeup, bringing different views to classrooms and helping the university secure its place as a competitive global institution. International students are eager learners who want to contribute to knowledge production in a meaningful and substantive way while undertaking their graduate studies at Queen’s. However, their lives are increasingly defined by financial precarity, which has been institutionalised through unequal relations. 

While we appreciate that precariousness is common among most graduate students, there are several factors that compound it for international students; namely higher fees, lack of external funding opportunities, and the restricted working hours they are permitted according to their visas. These various factors have negative impacts on their academic performance, as well as their social, and psychological experiences while living in Canada. These shared experiences have led to the formation of the International Caucus within the PSAC 901. This letter serves to: 1) highlight the current financial restraints faced by international students, 2) provide suggestions for how these grievances can be alleviated and, 3) call for action by the executive of Queen’s University. 

1. Unfair fees 

International Graduate students’ payable fees at Queen’s University are at least double that of domestic students. This is despite them receiving the same service and being expected to complete their degrees within the same constraints. Other universities within Ontario (such as Western University (2), University of Toronto (3),  and McMaster University (4)) have set the precedent by abolishing this unfair treatment, a move that Queen’s University should be eager to follow. As such, our most pressing petition is that Queen’s University make all international students’ payable fees the same as domestic students not only to improve the lives of their students but bolster the university’s competitive advantage. We further move that this should have no impact on the distribution of Queen’s Graduate Awards or of Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, and Teaching Fellowships. 

Furthermore, PhD students who are enrolled for longer than the 4 years are not guaranteed any funding by the university. We move that, at the very least, these students should be given Teaching or Research Assistantships to bring about some financial security. 

2. Unfair access to external funding 

Despite international students paying higher fees, there are only a fraction of scholarship opportunities open and available to them. The Trudeau5 and Vanier6 Scholarships provide some competitive opportunity but beyond them there is little way for international students to generate their own funding. Domestic graduate students, on the other hand, are able to apply for CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC to help fund their studies while also using it to generate competitive research outputs. 

If, as stated in Queen’s University Enrolment Report (7) and Strategic Framework (8), increasing the number of international students is an institutional priority then the university has a responsibility to create extra funding and scholarship opportunities for them so as to alleviate the unequal access to funding that is currently in place. While we realize that funding streams such as CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC are set by the federal government, we would like to put forward that Queen’s University take the lead in openly negotiating with these funding bodies to lift the domestic restrictions on applications. Furthermore, we would encourage the University to create additional internal scholarships and grants for international students – not only to mitigate their financial precarity, but so that they too can finance and create competitive research. 

3. UHIP for an additional family member 

In 1994, the Ontario government disqualified international students from the Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) and decided that they must enrol in a private health insurance program – the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP). This costs between $600.00 and $2000.00 per year (9). This for-profit health insurance plan provides limited health coverage. However, provinces such as British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia currently include international students on their provincial health insurance programs. We are aware that this is a provincial-wide issue and ask Queen’s University to inquire as to how this might be changed. Additionally, international graduate students can only put their spouse/partner and children on UHIP, we ask that an additional family member be included whose assistance may be crucial in childcare. 

4. Unclear financial communication and distribution 

While an International Student Guidebook (10) does exist, we believe that the university is not being transparent enough about the restrictions and costs of living for international students prior to them being asked to agree to their letters of acceptance. We firmly believe that when an international student is sent an offer to attend the university they should, at the same time, be given a standardised document that outlines the costs involved, the details of their funding package, as well as how this money will be distributed. 

The document outlining the costs should include, amongst others: that they may incur visa costs, that they may only be able to work 20 hours per week according to visa regulations, that there are limited scholarship opportunities available, that additional money is required to cover UHIP costs of family members, and that there are high costs with first arriving in Canada (such as possibly having to pay for two month’s rent in advance). Potential students should be urged to take these into serious consideration prior to accepting the offer by the university. 

While we appreciate that different departments within the university manage their funding packages differently we believe that this proposed document should also make clear how and when international students funding packages will be paid and on what kind of labour it is contingent. It should be clear whether the package is contingent on working as a TA, RA, and TF. It should also be stated how different parts of the funding package will be paid monthly and other parts according to lump sums. We would also like to suggest that the university make it standard practice that international students receive a larger lump sum for their first payment. When first arriving in Queen’s, international students are subject to a plethora of costs. Alternatively, Queen’s University should consider creating an additional entry package for international students who are newly arrived in Kingston. 4 

This proposed letter would help to ensure that international students are knowledgeable on the financial burden they may face, prior to accepting their offer from Queen’s. The university has an obligation to be transparent and clear regarding these aspects, especially in light of the additional financial burdens and limited financial opportunities available to international students. 

Main Action Points: 

At Queen’s University international students pay higher fees, have fewer funding opportunities, and are not adequately communicated with regarding their financials. As such, we firmly believe that Queen’s University has the responsibility to alleviate some of this financial stress. As raised in the letter, below are the main action points for Queen’s University, in order of importance: 

1. To make international students’ payable fees the same as domestic students; 

2. To generate internal Queen’s University scholarships specifically for international students; 

3. To be a leader by engaging with the federal government to open funding opportunities to international students; 

4. To make it possible to put an additional family member on UHIP over and above their spouse and child/ren; 

5. To generate a standardized document highlighting the financial restrictions of international students and how their funding packages will be managed. This is to be distributed prior to international students being expected to respond to Queen’s University’s acceptance letters; 

6. To make the first of the three financial payments made to international students bigger so that they can better manage their initial transition into Canadian life. Alternatively, creating a once off entry package available to international students as they arrive. 

Final remarks

Representing over a quarter of your graduate student population, international students are an important part of graduate life at Queen’s University and bring differing views and ideas to classrooms. International students help the university reach beyond its own walls and community into a world far greater than itself because they are passionate learners and leaders within their fields, who want to contribute to knowledge production. It is, therefore, sad that so much of international students’ experience at Queen’s University is defined by financial precarity. We are not here to survive, we are here to thrive.

 

The International Caucus, PSAC 901.

 


 

1 According to Queen’s University’s Enrolment Report 2018-2019. Accessed from: http://www.queensu.ca/registrar/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.uregwww/files/files/Enrolment%20Report%202018-19%20FINAL%20.pdf 

2 Western University Media Relations., 2018. Western reduces tuition for international PhD students to same level as domestic PhD students. Accessed from: https://mediarelations.uwo.ca/2018/03/16/western-reduces-tuition-international-phd-students-level-domestic-phd-students/ 

3 University of Toronto News., 2018. International PhD students at U of T to pay domestic tuition fees. Accessed from: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/international-phd-students-u-t-pay-domestic-tuition-fees 

4 McMaster University., Lowering tuition for international PhD students, improving research environment. Accessed from: https://gs.mcmaster.ca/news-events/news/2018/lowering-tuition-international-phd-students-improving-research-environment 

5 Foundation Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation., 2019. Doctoral Scholarships. Accessed from: http://www.trudeaufoundation.ca/en/programs/doctoral-scholarships 

6 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships., 2019. Eligibility. Accessed from: http://www.vanier.gc.ca/en/eligibility-admissibilite.html 

7 Queen’s University’s Enrolment Report 2018-2019. Accessed from: http://www.queensu.ca/registrar/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.uregwww/files/files/Enrolment%20Report%202018-19%20FINAL%20.pdf 

8 Queen’s University Strategic Framework: Raising our International Profile, (2018) https://www.queensu.ca/strategicplanning/framework/international 

9 “Fairness for International Students, International Students in Ontario”, Fact Sheet, May 2017. Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario. http://cfsontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Factsheet-InternationalStudents.pdf 

10 Queen’s University., 2018. International Student Guidebook. Accessed from: https://quic.queensu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/QUIC-International-Guidebook.pdf

 

Download letter here: Open-letter_International-Student-Caucus  

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.