A few days ago, The Talon UBC released information about UBC’s bold move to increase international undergraduate tuition by 10% and residence fees by 20%. The university’s proposals have been met with outrage. Students are now organizing resistance efforts on a massive scale, with upcoming initiatives that include a mass-teach in on Tuesday, emergency AMS meetings, among other initiatives. A significant amount of ink has also been spilt on this issue.
In an opinion piece in another student publication, Austen Erhardt argued that the blame for the tuition increase rests squarely with the provincial government (the BC Liberals) due to their repeated cuts to post-secondary education. Erhardt’s arguments are basically correct – the root of this crisis is definitely at the de-funding of post-secondary by the provincial and federal governments. Erhardt writes “…when faced with the decision either to make cuts and lower the quality of the university, or to make some students pay more in order to maintain or improve the quality of education that the university can provide, UBC’s choice seems justifiable.”
However, this is by no means what the University is proposing, or at least, it has not proposed this in any serious way. The visuals on the UBC international tuition increase consultation page imply that increased tuition costs will augment the undergraduate experience. These images (and the logics they represent) are devoid of substance as they do not articulate how exactly increased tuition will lead to increased “excellence” or tangible benefits to students.
It is true that UBC, like many public educational institutions the world over, is facing extreme financial hardship due to circumstances beyond its control. However, UBC’s decision to try and remain “internationally competitive” in a time of increased financial austerity is a fundamentally political choice. It is true that UBC has few options, but the university has made a pointed decision to draw on what it sees as a viable revenue source – its own students. The connection between the preservation or amelioration of UBC’s international reputation and the education that undergraduate students will receive is not clear. There is also a more fundamental question of the value of an increased reputation if it is something that is increasingly inaccessible: should an education of “excellence” only be for the elite?
Erhardt also says “….[it] all comes down to one simple fact: domestic students and their families pay taxes; that is, they pay taxes to Canada and British Columbia and will pay these taxes for the majority of their lives. Taxes that go toward funding and subsidizing post-secondary education in Canada. Conversely, international students — with few exceptions — do not. Resultantly, lest they benefit disproportionately from the money put into the system by domestic students and their families, international students pay for the whole cost of their education or more.”
This is a recurring argument that I have been hearing – international students are not the responsibility of the province and, ultimately, they do not and should not have the same rights. The university’s decision to target international students with exorbitant tuition increases is a clear logical extension of this premise. However, we need to critically examine the assumptions about borders that underly our discussions about educational accessibility.
Consider, for example, Indigenous students such as those in the Mohawk Nation (divided by the US and Canada). Those students may want to go to school in Canada, yet they are cast as “international students” by arbitrarily imposed borders that are the historical product of imperialism and genocide.
Furthermore, we need to think more critically about the supposedly “common sense” suggestion that locals should be prioritized and that ‘Canada should take care of Canadians.’ The idea that UBC (or Canada) is successful because of the hard-work of Canadian taxpayers invisibilizes several histories.
Firstly, international students come to UBC from every corner of the earth, and for countless reasons. Nevertheless, It is undeniable that many students come from the Global South, or the so-called “developing” world in search of an excellent education. This educational calculus is a direct product of global history – why are students from the South rushing to come to UBC, but British Columbians are not clamouring to go to the National University of Mexico? The relationship between educational quality and the funding of an institution is obvious here and the nations who have accumulated the most capital have the so-called ‘best schools’.
When people argue that ‘Canada should take care of Canadians,’ they forget that Canada’s wealth is not solely the product of the contributions of its taxpayers. Canada’s position as a wealthy nation is the direct result of the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous communities from their lands, and the theft of their resources. Canada maintains its “developed” status through ongoing projects of a similar nature. Through things like free trade and our global mining industry, Canada currently participates in the pillage and destruction of the natural resource wealth of countries all over Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Vancouver is home to an endless amount of mining companies accused of environmental degradation and human rights abuses; UBC has received donations from several corporations whose human rights and environmental records abroad have been questioned.
In the light of all this, can we honestly argue that the provincial government is subsidizing domestic students’ education? UBC is reflective, or part of, a larger economy that has extracted massive amounts of wealth from First Nations territories and Latin American, African, and Asian nations, leaving them impoverished. Who is really subsidizing whom?
Beyond asking why some states are wealthier than others, we also must question what it means for us to categorize people as “domestic” and “international”. The settlement of these lands known now as Canada by Europeans was a brutal colonial project, and until the 1960-70s, Canadian immigration policy was blatantly racist. Over the last few years, Canadian immigration policy has become extremely restrictive. In its current incarnation it caters mainly to temporary migrant labour with few rights and to inviting permanent settlement from the world’s professional and business classes. Options for refugees to come to Canada are increasingly limited.
For those lucky enough to get the chance to immigrate, becoming a Canadian citizen has also become more difficult. Through the controversial Bill C-24, the Conservative government has actually proposed that, under certain circumstances, dual citizens, can actually have their Canadian citizenship rescinded. Under the same law, the language requirements and citizenship wait times have been extended, putting more barriers between permanent residents and their hopes of citizenship. Given these challenges, as well as the extensive skill and educational requirements, the ability to obtain Permanent Residency and Canadian citizenship is often intricately linked with class privilege. Conversely, being born in a so-called “developing” country where there are fewer “world-class” educational institutions like UBC is often a lottery of birth.
If we truly believe in equality and no distinction between people, we must question why our fellow international students are being treated as second-class students. If we truly believe in equality, we must remember that borders, although important, are largely colonial and imperialist constructs designed to control the movement of people for certain interests, usually those of elites (to protect wealthy countries from those deemed as ‘outsiders’ and to contain people in poorer countries). We need to move beyond dividing people into “international” and “domestic” and understand that if you had the grades to get into UBC (although the meritocracy of grades is another discussion), where you were born, your immigration status, or the nationalities of your parents should not be a barrier to your education. To argue anything but is thinly-veiled racism.