College administrators hear student feedback at budget consultation

Photo by Tracy Ho
Photo by Tracy Ho

Concern expressed about international student fees

By Jake Wray, News Editor


Several Douglas College students spoke directly to the college’s senior management team about international student fees and other concerns at a budget consultation meeting on February 2.

Each year the college holds a forum where students can learn about the college’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and provide feedback. The DSU recently criticized the consultation process, saying that few students attended the consultations in previous years because of poor advertising and possibly due to other accessibility issues.

Approximately 30 people attended the forum this year. About half in attendance were college staff, while the other half were students—most of whom were representatives from the DSU. There was a slideshow presentation of the college’s proposed budget, followed by a feedback session where members of the audience were invited to speak to college officials.

International student tuition increases were perhaps the most contentious issue. Tracey Szirth, chief financial officer for Douglas College, said during the presentation that the college increased international student tuition by 1.9 per cent annually for three years, but they received feedback from students who said annual increases were difficult to plan for. Consequently, the college increased international student tuition by 9.4 per cent in the 2017/2018 fiscal year, but there will be no international student tuition increases for the following two years, according to Szirth.

“We did hear from international students, though, that was problematic to keep increasing each year, when they’ve planned for their two years or three years on a budget, so in [the 2017/2018 budget] we increased [international student tuition] one time,” she said. “We’re not planning for any tuition increase for international students for the 2018/2019 budget [or the following year.]”

Christen McDonald, an international student who studies environmental science at Douglas College, blasted the 9.4 per cent international student tuition increase during the feedback portion of the forum.

“Douglas College unexpectedly raised my tuition fees for fall 2017 by 9.4 per cent with no warning to the people paying that,” she said. “Like many international students, my parents are not wealthy. With uncapped tuition increases, my education is at stake.”

McDonald also criticized the fact that post-secondary institutions in British Columbia are increasingly reliant on international student tuition as a source of revenue.

“Because of the prime location, and the Douglas College recruiters who came to my high school, I knew BC was where I wanted to be. But there was one thing they forgot to tell me—that I was an economic commodity,” she said. “I am here today to tell you that I am not a revenue-generating unit.”

Guangwei Ouyang, vice president of international education for Douglas College, responded to McDonald. He acknowledged that international students pay significantly more for their education than domestic students do, but he said international student tuition is lower at Douglas College than it is at comparable schools.

“I never see you as a revenue-generator,” Ouyang said. “I agree with you that in some ways your tuition fees are higher, three times or four times higher, than domestic students’, but if you really compare Douglas College tuition fees with other similar institutes, historically we are always not really in the high end.”

Prabh Hundal, director of college relations for the DSU, said the students’ union appreciates the effort Douglas College makes to engage students in the budget process because it is more than other post-secondary institutions would do, but there is still room for improvement.

“Apart from a small group of students which the DSU organizes every year, there’s no large engagement. This makes us think that maybe this format does not work. There must be a better way to do this,” she said. “I was present at last year’s consultation. There have definitely been many positive, visible changes. I see a lot more students here than last year. That said, there does need to be more meaningful dialogue in different ways to reach more students. I think the DSU and the college can work together to ensure there is more diverse input.”

Dave Taylor, vice president of public affairs for Douglas College, responded to Hundal. He said the college made changes to the consultation process in response to the DSU’s concerns last year, and that the college is open to working with the DSU to further improve the consultation.

“We also believe there is a real value in having a dialogue with students about these issues. [It’s] really important from a transparency perspective, obviously, but also from an educational perspective,” he said. “For next year, absolutely, we would love to work with the DSU and develop some more methods of engagement with students.”