Letter: Why does Go Global insist on cancelling exchange?

UBC has laid out the parameters for its fifth consecutive cancellation of a Go Global exchange term, leaving many students with little to no hope of experiencing a single term abroad before they graduate.

The university has extended its cancellation of all student international travel for university purposes until December 31, 2021, and on October 22, 2021, all exchanges destined for host universities in countries with advisories to avoid non-essential travel in place will be cancelled. At the time of writing this article, there is not a country in the world without the aforementioned advisory levied upon it by the Government of Canada — therefore, cancellation of Go Global Winter 2022 exchanges is a foregone conclusion.

In communications to students currently enrolled in exchange programs for Winter 2022, UBC cites the advisory to “avoid non-essential travel” as the sole reason for the previous and probable upcoming cancellations.

However, as the Government of Canada website states, “it is up to you to decide what “non-essential travel” means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.” Given the definition of the advisory, and the general support for study abroad programs from the Government of Canada in its belief that “both countries will be enriched,” it is very difficult to see why UBC is so adamant in denying its students the opportunity to go abroad.

This current fall semester has seen the arrival of exchange students from around the world at UBC, while UBC students in dual degree programs and the Global Supply Chain and Logistics Management joint exchange initiative have departed to international destinations.

In addition to the UBC students outside of the traditional Go Global pipeline going abroad this fall and winter, other Canadian universities including Queen’s and the University of Victoria have proceeded with their study abroad programs without controversy. Western and its affiliate universities have also taken a more appropriate response, allowing students to complete an authorization process wherein they must demonstrate sound planning for their academics, travel and safety to their advisors. If successful, students are cleared to go abroad.

Universities slated to host UBC students for the winter term are processing exchange procedures as normal, and it remains possible for Canadian students to obtain travel and study visas.

The vast majority of UBC students have declared themselves to be fully vaccinated, and the student population falls into the lowest COVID-19 risk category (found on page 20). The onus should be placed on the student to decide whether or not it is in their best interest to pursue their exchange, but the only party blocking this decision-making process is UBC.

When COVID-19 shut the world down, UBC and every other university were forced into making important decisions in order to protect the health of students, faculty, and greater communities. Somewhere along the line, a blanket ‘no’ has become a prevailing force in administrative decision-making and a generalized excuse to not work with students on finding solutions.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on young adults and the educational experience and UBC should not continue to pile on the disappointments. We are at the point where study abroad programs are possible: UBC and Go Global need to provide students with the opportunity to pursue them.

Ivan Schmelke-Haagenson is a fourth-year honours student at Sauder and spent the last two years as an editor for UBC’s New Business Review.