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SU Elections 2023: International Students’ Association Forum

The fifth University of Alberta's Students' Union 2023 elections forum was hosted by the International Students' Association.

On March 7, the International Students’ Association (ISA) hosted the fifth University of Alberta’s Students’ Union elections forum.

The forum began with an opening statement from each candidate, followed by questions from international students in the audience.

Here is the TL;DR version of this forum:

  • President: tuition increases, consultation with the ISA, and advocacy for international students
  • Vice-president (operations and finance):  Break the Record, Campus Food Bank, office space for ISA
  • Vice-president (external): mental health supports and resources for international students
  • Vice-president (academic): need-based grants and bursaries
  • Vice-president (student life): aiding the ISA with International Day, improving mental health supports
  • Board of Governors Representative: communicating international student issues to BoG effectively
  • Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG): undergraduate projects and free services 

Presidential candidates discuss tuition increases, consultation with the ISA, and advocacy

During opening statements, Haruun Ali, presidential candidate and former arts councillor, touched on his plans to help foster the international student community, and support student leaders in the ISA with their advocacy by building an advocacy office. 

Ali said that he plans to ensure that an advocacy office is established, with “a larger team of people that can help with research and messaging support.”

“At the end of the day, international students are students — they want to be able to learn. Advocacy, research, and messaging takes a long time to be able to develop.” He added that it’s important for the Students’ Union to support the ISA and international students, and be a resource.

Ali also touched on wanting to lobby the government to regulate the differential fee between domestic and international students, as “by regulating it, we will hopefully be able to keep pushing lower for international students.”

“I also want to make sure that we’re working on campus life — that means ensuring that the transportation is safe,” Ali said. He added that this is something he plans to work with the ISA on.

In his opening statements, presidential candidate and current vice-president (external) Christian Fotang spoke on international student tuition and the role they play on campus.

“Over $800 million dollars — that’s how much international students contribute to tuition in Alberta,” he said.

“Beyond numbers, you’ve enhanced the culture of campus, and brought in diverse, global perspectives into the classroom and the workplace. How does the university recognize this contribution? By continuing to raise your tuition instead of expanding existing financial supports.”

Fotang touched on what he’s achieved by working with international students during his time as vice-president (external) for the past two years, including the elimination of the 20-hour a week working limit for international students, $50 million in funding for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to “faster process study permits,” and the creation of Alberta’s International Education Strategy. He added, however, that “more needs to be done.”

Fotang said that the U of A should be expected to consult with the ISA on tuition for international students. “International students across all of our campuses must also feel heard and represented,” he added.

“As your vice-president (external), I have worked alongside you to ensure that international students receive respect and recognition for the contributions that you’ve made to our campus community … as president, I will continue to give you the strong and effective advocacy that you deserve.”

During question period, an audience member asked the presidential candidates what they have already done for international students, in terms of housing, affordability, tuition, and other issues.

Ali replied that when he was on Students’ Council, “there was some sort of mix-up between the executives, and they didn’t notice that there was a six per cent increase [for international student tuition] on the table at Academic Planning Committee (APC).”

Ali said that he was the one to discover this, and he advocated with other international students against the increase.

Ali added that both he and Fotang have lobbied the City of Edmonton council to make long-term investments into housing and safe-consumption sites. Ali said that he’s been doing national advocacy over the past few weeks about prices in grocery stores and that this contributed to the parliamentary summoning of grocery executives.

Fotang’s response touched on advocacy for international student work hours, and efforts to advocate against tuition increases.

“When it comes to affordability, we’ve worked hard to push against international student tuition increases. Sadly, they were still approved,” Fotang said.

He also touched on visa-processing issues international students face, and said that he’s been working with IRCC, and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Sean Fraser, and was involved in getting “$50 million toward IRCC, to actually address study permit processing issues.”

An audience member asked Ali and Fotang how they plan to include the ISA when decisions are made by UASU executives, such as decisions on campus safety.

“I think campus needs to be safe for as many people as possible, and students should feel safe at a transit station. We’re seeing social disorder that is spilling over — due to the gentrification of downtown Edmonton — and it’s spilling over into the university area,” Ali replied.

He added that he plans to work with the ISA and international students to address campus safety issues and work on solutions.

Fotang said that quality consultation involves giving information ahead of a meeting, and “looking into connecting ISA with other groups that can help them advocate for international students on campus.”

He added that the U of A policies and procedures about consultation should be updated as well, and that “​there should be an expectation that they’re meeting with international students.”

-Lily Polenchuk

VP Ops Fi candidates discuss Break the Record, Campus Food Bank, and a potential ISA office

In his opening statement, vice-president (operations and finance) candidate and current business councillor Fateh Arslan, spoke about maintaining funding for the Campus Food Bank (CFB), and the high tuition costs paid by international students.

“International students have been nickled and dimed by the university for the longest time,” said Arslan. “The UASU is not a part of the university. The Students’ Union will hold the university accountable.”

Levi Flaman, vice-president (operations and finance) candidate and current business councillor, spoke about improving affordability for domestic and international students, and his experiences at the International Service Centre as a senior-peer advisor. 

“You don’t have to be an international student to understand what’s important to them. And as part of my platform I will try and focus on making everything affordable to everybody.”

Flaman and Arslan were asked if they believed the $50,000 the Students’ Union recently spent on Break the Record (BTR) was justifiable, or if it should have been put towards other services.

Flaman noted there was a lack of transparency regarding the cost of BTR until the event had already occurred.   

“After being away from campus for so long — a lot of people were at campus for the first time, even as a second or third year, and I can understand why they were trying to rebuild that campus spirit that campus has been lacking for the last handful of years,” Flaman said.

“We had to pay that $50,000 because we had prior commitments from sponsors and external donors or pledges that we were expecting to receive, and at the last minute these donors pulled out. So we had to put that money in,” Flaman said.

“Whether or not I agree if it was justified — painfully yes. But I think there needs to be a lot more justification leading up to it. We can’t be left in the dark.”

Arslan disagreed, stating that if elected he would hold donors and sponsors committed to their pledges.

“It’s 100 per cent not justifiable. This $50,000 should have been put into different services and places that are more important to students.”

Flaman was questioned about his platform being unavailable on his social media platforms. Flaman spoke about the difficulties of working through school as a mature student while managing his campaign, and trying to maintain good grades.

“I’ve been trying to juggle too much at once,” he said.

Arslan and Flaman were questioned about finding an office space for the ISA.

Flaman said the difficulty of finding an office stemmed from a lack of space in the Students’ Union Building, and that space would have to be found in another building. 

“That has to go through the university itself and as we know, they move at a glacial pace. I don’t want to make any promises that I can’t keep, especially since our term is only a year. Would I like to help facilitate that? Absolutely.”

Arslan agreed with Flaman about the difficulty of the project. 

“I want to promise, but again I will be working tirelessly with the incoming vice-president (student life) to hopefully get that project done.”

Arslan and Flaman were asked about how they would maintain funding for CFB.

“Fundraising campaigns would be very important for me, along with partnerships with grocery stores if possible, and prioritizing volunteer recruitment,” said Arslan.

Flaman said he wants to help CFB not have to rely on student fees alone. 

“They’re focusing on getting a lot more donations from external parties and that’s why a big part of my platform is to increase our revenue sources to outside campus,” Flaman said.

-Dylana Twittey

VPX candidate discusses the challenges that international students at the U of A face

Vice-president (external) candidate, Chris Beasley, discussed the challenges that international students at the U of A face. 

In his opening remarks, Beasley said that he’s worked with international students throughout his years of governance. Beasley worked with the faculty of arts to provide support for international students taking online university courses. 

“That’s work that I did because I cared. You should elect someone who will continue to care,” he said. 

Beasley said that he aims to change the existing narrative that surrounds international students. “I hope to bring awareness to the benefits international students bring to our province.” 

He stated that tuition increases negatively affect a large number of international students, which puts U of A at a disadvantage. 

“We’re competing against other provinces and other schools, and we’re losing that competition when international students continue to be treated poorly,” Beasley said. 

When asked about his plans for mental health resources for struggling international students, Beasley said he’d “like to address it in a few different ways.” 

Beasley plans to improve mental health by engaging international students, and making them feel as though they’re part of a community. 

“They have support, they’re able to go to events, they’re able to just be around other people, especially people who share unique experiences with them,” Beasley said. 

He said that mental health support is a priority, as he has personally relied on counselling services at the U of A. 

“I’ve been fighting alongside you guys for a very long time, and I want to do it from a new position.”

-Sophie Jickling

VPA candidates discuss barriers in education, and the need to increase need-based grants and bursaries

In his opening statement, vice-president (academic) candidate Pedro Almeida, said that he plans to “build on the work previously done by the UASU and the ISA,” to address issues international students face with doable goals. 

He added that this includes having bi-weekly meetings with the ISA, working to improve the Academic Integrity Policy by “making it clear and less penalizing to students,” and further promoting hybrid learning. 

“I want to start my speech today by clearly and specifically stating that international students deserve better,” said vice-president (academic) candidate Rowan Morris, in his opening statement.

He added that he plans to work with the ISA to advocate for issues such as expanding scholarship eligibility for international students, and advocating for a seat for ISA on the General Faculties Council (GFC).

Milan Regmi, vice-president (academic) candidate, said that he also plans to advocate for ISA to have a seat on GFC, and “work with international students on things such as eliminating the cap on international student working hours.”

During question period, an audience member asked the vice-president (academic) candidates how they plan to incorporate the fact that there are “different educational systems around the world,” when making suggestions to professors, as international students often misunderstand or are unaware of requirements in the early stages of their university education.

Morris replied that the option of a transition program for international students should be explored, and he added that rubrics should be a part of syllabi, as students “should have an idea of how your professor is going to be marking you.”

Regmi talked about how international students should have cohorts with “people from the same country or the same culture … so that they can help each other adjust to a new way of life, and a new academic system.”

Almeida touched on his plan to create an online advising hub that will have information on academics, mental health support, and additional information for international students. 

He added that he agrees with Morris in that “there should be more transparency in the syllabus,” which can be achieved through “expanding the criteria requirement of course syllabi submission to different faculties.”

The candidates were then asked about their thoughts on expanding and accessing need-based grants and bursaries for international students.

“I probably can’t afford to buy groceries this week, to be realistic with you, and that is something that I know happens with international students as well,” Morris replied.

He added that for international students experiencing poverty for the first time, most “don’t know where to go, who to talk to, and they don’t know that other students are experiencing it.”

Morris said that he plans to do consultations, and compare data to other universities, so that he can come back “to the university with a strong, detailed research plan to make sure that they say yes the first time,” to funding for international students.

Regmi touched on how most funds are merit-based rather than need-based, and international students have to “adjust to a new grading system, just for them to be able to get any financial help.” 

“I want to work with the ISA to make sure that we have increased funding for international students,” he said.

Almeida said that “there’s a lack of accessibility and knowledge on where to go and what to do, and the best way to solve that is creating an easy-to-use system to approach those issues.”

“I am apprehended of over-promising and over-extending beyond the vice-president (academic) role too much. But I do think that these collaborative efforts are incredibly important for the role, and of the executive committee as a whole,” Almeida said.

-Lily Polenchuk

VPSL candidate discusses solidifying importance of International Day 

There is only one candidate running in the race for vice-president (student life), Michael Griffiths. In their opening statement at the ISA forum, Griffiths emphasized their willingness to represent international students as a domestic student. 

“I’m not a member of the ISA, and yet I’m tasked with representing you,” they said. “This will be a challenge, but it’s one that I’m committed to overcoming.” 

Griffiths stated that they have “already had productive discussions with incoming members of the ISA” in order to understand the interests of international students at the U of A. 

They stated that, if elected, they intend to offer UASU services to help facilitate ISA elections, and to “enshrine I-Day as an essential event on campus.” 

An audience member asked how Griffiths would aid the ISA with their most important yearly event, International Day (I-Day).

In response, Griffiths explained that they intend to use UASU channels to promote I-Day, continuing the work of current vice-president (student life), Joannie Fogue. In addition, Griffiths explained their intention to establish I-Day as an event on par with other student celebrations, such as Indigenous Celebrations Week.

Griffiths stated that helping the ISA with I-Day is “super tangible and very realistic,” but that they would ensure that autonomy remained with the ISA when it comes to planning the event.

Another member of the audience asked Griffiths about his intention to improve mental health supports on campus, explaining that international students are often affected “much more by loneliness on campus.”

In response, Griffiths said that while student mental health is an important aspect of the vice-president (student life) portfolio, it is not exclusive to the position. He added that he expects “to see other members of our executive team stepping in as well.” 

Griffiths explained that he plans to increase mental health supports through multiple initiatives, including increasing engagement on campus. They are interested in “working with the ISA to facilitate those events and to alleviate some of that pressure.” 

Additionally, Griffiths said that they seek to bolster student services, including the Peer Support Centre.

“Everyone’s mental health is better when they feel like they’re part of their community,” they said.

-Olivia O’Neill

BoG representative said Board needs data to provide change

Stephen Raitz, the candidate for the Board of Governors (BoG) representative race, attended the forum late due to having a mandatory class scheduled at the same time.

His opening statement mentioned discussions that he has had with international students, which he threaded into his platform. 

“I tried to include in my platform some practical, tangible ways to support students, specifically, international students, to build support with board members.”

Raitz said there is a possibility of change in the international student tuition model “because it’s local to the U of A.”

“We can find ways to improve the model by removing some of the demanding requirements to pay a full semester’s worth of tuition to take a spring and summer course,” which he said is something that international students are disadvantaged by. 

He touched on the idea of mobilizing students in the next year to push against further increases. He also said that the university might look to international students when thinking about making up revenue.

“With a limit on domestic tuition increases, the administration is going to look at other sources, and deregulated aspects of tuition like international students’ tuition.”

Dhir Bid, the president of the ISA, asked Raitz how international students will have the assurance that BoG knows of the challenges being faced, and how international students are impacted by tuition increases. 

Bid added that last year, a package of stories from international students about the impact of tuition increases was given to GFC, however, it was never revealed whether this package was received and acknowledged by BoG.

Raitz replied that advocacy on behalf of international students, and the collection of data that will be presented to BoG, are two solutions.

“I am listening, and I will vocalize those issues at the board,” he said.

He provided how he would keep international students informed by communicating, “here’s the meeting schedules for the year and the key opportunities for you.” 

Raitz enforced the point that individuals on BoG rely on data. “If they see that they can raise tuition, and still see international students come here, they’re not gonna be persuaded by stories, because they have data indicating otherwise.”

He promised to ensure that funding for initiatives and student support is spent responsibly. He mentioned the $1.6 million in funding from the university and province recently announced for mental health supports.

“This funding is great,” he said. “It’s not coming from direct students. It’s going to support the community at large.”

-Lale Fassone

APIRG fee funds undergraduate projects, free services, helps build “political and social change”

The Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG) referendum was presented by Tristan Turner, APIRG’s office coordinator. This referendum is proposing a fee of $3.50 per semester for full-time students, and $1.75 for part-time students. Augustana students are exempt from this fee, and students can choose to opt out of the fee at the start of every semester. 

APIRG is a non-profit, student-run organization, which for “22 years has funded hundreds of undergraduate-led projects, and always offers free services, which builds student power for political and social change,” Turner said.

Services offered to students include free printing, meals, and workshops. APIRG also provides over $50,000 annually in direct-grants for student projects.

“APIRG is continuing to provide even more free resources to students, all while reducing our fee by 96 cents per year,” Turner said.

-Aparajita Rahman

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Lily Polenchuk

Lily Polenchuk is the 2023-24 Managing Editor at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2023-24 and 2022-23 News Editor, and 2022-23 Staff Reporter. She is in her second year, studying English and political science. She enjoys skiing, walks in the river valley, and traveling.

Dylana Twittey

Dylana Twittey is the 2023-24 News Editor. She is a second-year student studying history. In her free time, she enjoys watching 90s Law and Order, cooking, and rereading her favourite books for the fifth time.

Olivia O'Neill

Olivia O’Neill was the 2023-24 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She’s in her fifth year of the English honours program. She loves popular culture, The Smiths, and collecting multiple copies of the same book. If she’s not reading or writing, Olivia can be found trying new recipes, logging movies on Letterboxd, or defending her favourite Gilmore Girls theories with her life. She is Team Jess.

Lale Fassone

Lale Fassone is a second-year student studying media studies and linguistics. She served as the Deputy Arts and Culture Editor in spring 2022. When she isn’t procrastinating her mountain-high workload or when not trying to learn yet another language, she can be found potentially working, writing, reading, or eating strawberries while watching the same rom-com over again.

Aparajita Rahman

Aparajita Rahman is the 2023-24 Staff Reporter at The Gateway. She is in her second year, studying Psychology and English. She enjoys reading, and getting lost on transit.

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