Josh Dwamena arrived in Canada from the U.K. in 2014 excited to begin his post-secondary education at UBC Okanagan.
Now in his fifth year looking to graduate with a business management degree, he describes his post-secondary experience as having both a bright and dark side.
He is glad for the education and life experiences that have come with his enrolment at UBCO, saying all the positive stereotypes about Canadians he was told by friends and family have proven accurate.
“This country has welcomed me with open arms. After four years of studying here, I find myself saying sorry way too often and buying (Tim Hortons) timbits for groups of people I barely know,” he laughed.
But he has faced difficulties on the financial side, as both a victim of economic difficulties back home that have affected his parents’ ability to pay for his education coupled with crippling tuition fee increases.
“When I started here in 2014, my tuition fees were $25,000 a year, and for an international student this year those fees are now $38,000,” Dwamena said.
While the province has imposed a two per cent cap on domestic tuition fee increases, no such regulation exists for international students, leaving them susceptible to annual fee increases well beyond that level.
Those shared financial setbacks for international students are the basis for a campaign launched by post-secondary student organizations across B.C. called “Fairness for International Students.”
The UBC Students’ Union has joined with other student groups at 12 post-secondary institutions across B.C. to align with the B.C. Federation of Students on this campaign, which was unveiled Wednesday at the UBCO campus. Together, they represent 9,100 students.
The campaign is seeking petition signatures for a request to impose regulations for international student tuition fee increases and a new international student education strategy that provides sufficient supports for international students.
“International students come to UBCO hoping to access one of the top 40 ranked universities for higher education in the world, and have the experience of a small campus,” said Amal Alhuwayshil, president of the UBCO Student Union and campaign coordinator for the BCFS.
“However, their tuition fees can unpredictably increase at any time as per the board of governors decision”
Alhuwayshil, an international student at UBCO from Saudi Arabia, said education is the third highest export in B.C. behind only agriculture and forestry.
She cited statistics from 2015 for B.C. that credited international student spending at $3.117 billion, creating 26,000 jobs, adding $1.77 billion to the provincial GDP and $176.4 million in B.C. income tax revenue.
But for all that economic benefit, and adding to the post-secondary education experience for domestic and non-domestic students alike, they are being financially targeted.
She said at UBCO alone, international student tuition fees have increased nine and eight per cent the last two years, and a further four per cent increase is on the table for this year.
“B.C. hosts one-third of all international students in Canada. If the financial hardship being imposed on them without any regulation continues, those students are going to look to other provinces to attend school, and that lost revenue will create hardship for our post-secondary institutions to make up that revenue,” Alhuwayshil said.
For Dwamena, those increased fees he left him facing the prospect of being unable to finish his education, something he has managed to avoid by reducing his semester course load to lower his fees and working as a bartender, although his ability to work is limited by his international student status.
“It feels like on one hand my enrolment allows a box to be ticked off for diversity and another ticked off for revenue which feels like a slap in the face,” said Dwamena.
“Many international students are already struggling to make ends meet. Some B.C. institutions have imposed 15 to 20 per cent tuition fee hikes. I feel that is unfair and unnecessary to raise tuition fees to that extent without providing more services.”
Dwamena said UBCO can justify the nine per cent increase because it is lower than what some other schools charge, but he challenges that fiscal rhetoric of relying on international students to make up budget revenue shortfalls.
“It is not the worst so that is OK? No. This is not an unacceptable reason to leave international students like myself unable to budget for our education in Canada.”