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British Columbia Simon Fraser University students protest decision to hike international student fees

A vote by Simon Fraser University’s board of governors Thursday to hike student fees, particularly those levied on international undergraduates, sparked outcry from students at SFU.

And their counterparts from across the province vowed to campaign for a tuition freeze on all students.

About 80 students attended a meeting to protest the decision to increase international student fees by up to 20 per cent, said Jade Ho, a spokesperson for SFU Tuition Freeze Now, a campaign opposed to the SFU budget. The group launched its campaign last October, when students first learned of the proposed budget through a university consultation. Earlier this week, about 60 students and several campaign leaders rallied on campus, demanding the university freeze tuition for all students for the next two academic years.

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The group is also calling for the B.C. government to provide more funding and cap international tuition. The province caps increases for domestic undergraduate and graduate students at 2 per cent, but there is no cap on international tuition.

“We do recognize the root cause of all of [this] is the underfunding from the provincial government,” said Ms. Ho, an international student from Belize who says she works several jobs to afford living in Vancouver.

SFU spokesperson Justin Wong said the school’s budget is based on its current fiscal situation and revenue streams. He said that SFU would welcome an increase in provincial funding, but its current budget needs to align with the finances that it has available at this time.

Rodney Porter, communications director for B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, said in a statement that postsecondary-institution boards have the autonomy under legislation to set tuition and fees for international students and that these students are expected to pay the full cost of their education.

Mr. Porter said provincial operating funding covers only a portion of the cost that is required to operate public postsecondary institutions in British Columbia. Additional funding sources include research grants, tuition, investment income and ancillary operations.

Students at other B.C. postsecondary institutions said they were planning similar protests to the one at SFU. Phil Henderson, a graduate student at the University of Victoria, is co-leading a rally next week to protest against a 15-per-cent tuition hike at UVic for new international undergraduate students. This is on top of a 20-per-cent increase for those students implemented last year.

Mr. Henderson said a committee that currently comprises 10 UVic students is hoping to build a permanent executive structure after the rally.

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He said he hopes the provincial government will extend the same regulatory protections in place for domestic students to international students so that all of them can be treated equally.

Kristi Simpson, UVic associate vice-president financial planning and operations, stated that the university’s plans to raise international student tuition, to cover the cost of their education and services, have been public for three years.

Anton Cu Unjieng, a first-year graduate student at University of B.C., is also planning to build a tuition-freeze campaign with other students. He said such a campaign is needed not only because of unaffordability in the city but to stop educational institutions from treating international students as “cash cows.”

“[Higher education in Canada] started to be treated as a purchasable good instead of as a right,” he said, adding that people need to transform their view toward education and how it is funded in B.C. and across the country.

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