Wearing cow hats to help draw attention to their cause, student union leaders urged Brandon University’s board of governors on Saturday that "international students are not cash cows."
Recent months have seen BU consider an increase to international student rates, which are currently double the rate that domestic students pay. The figure bandied about on Saturday was that these rates might increase to triple that of domestic students.
Joined by about 20 of his peers, Brandon University Students’ Union President Nick Brown led the charge by initiating a conversation about tuition fees during a board of governors meeting.
Brown set the tone early on by declaring to the board that "international students are not cash cows" — the same slogan that was written on picket signs several students in the audience held throughout the meeting.
With the students’ union occupying two seats on the board, this call for action was a more formalized version of last November’s protest, which saw hundreds of students march through the campus in support of accessible, affordable education.
In the union’s crosshairs on Saturday were international student fees and the looming threat of increased tuition fees for all students.
On Saturday, Brown initially urged the board to charge international students the same rate as the university does its domestic student population — a motion that was defeated and replaced with Brown’s urging for the ratio to remain status quo.
Brown also motioned for the board to continue holding tuition fee increases at the rate of inflation, in keeping with the prior direction of the former NDP government. This item is of particular concern now due to recent suggestions by the Progressive Conservatives that the practice might end.
While none of these motions passed, their related discussions were deferred to the board’s next meeting in March, at which time they’ll have greater clarity from the provincial government as to what level of funding they will have to work with.
After the meeting, Brown reflected on its outcome as a "win," even though it wasn’t the full result they’d hoped for.
Boasting an ultimate goal of eliminating tuition fees altogether, Brown said that they’d be willing to settle at status quo for the time being.
Status quo is good enough for International Students Collective president Pruthvi Dhannapuneni, who attended Saturday’s meeting and saw the discussion as a step in the right direction for the university.
An international student himself, Dhannapuneni said that he chose Brandon University first and foremost because of its low tuition fees. His subsequent reason for staying at Brandon was its quality of education.
This is a story that applies to many international students, whose first priority in selecting a post-secondary institution is usually its affordability, he said — an edge BU might lose if its board of governors increases the rate at which international students pay.
Bringing the realities of the post-secondary institution’s finances into the picture, board treasurer William Schaffer reminded those in attendance that they’d still have to balance the books.
"We don’t control some of the things that govern us in terms of funding, and for us to stand up and deny that reality just leads to the university looking into a bigger financial difficulty," he explained during Saturday’s meeting.
Taking a similar approach, BU president Gervan Fearon put forward a number of failed amendments that would have had student union representatives acknowledge the financial realities they presently face, wherein lowering international student fees or ignoring outside financial constraints might lead to layoffs or a reduction in services.
Although he came down hard on the student union for what he outlined as unrealistic financial expectations, Schaffer capped of his day’s remarks by thanking them for speaking up.
"This has been a very useful, and I think very positive development," he said, commending the student representatives with bringing a sensitivity to the issue they might not have otherwise had.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB