Op-ed: Why I'm leaving The Ubyssey to fight the international tuition increases

When I finish my Arts degree next month, I will have paid less than $60,000 in tuition — roughly the same amount I would have paid to attend public university back home in California.

If the proposed international tuition increase of nearly 50 per cent — on top of a 10 per cent increase passed last year — is approved next month, my 15 year-old sister would have to pay over $155,000 for the same degree.

While I saved money by arriving with college credit from high school and going on exchange, charging $155,000 for a university degree simply changes what is possible for students following graduation.

During my years as an editor at The Ubyssey, I have published important and sometimes uplifting stories. Journalism can be a tremendous source of good and I hope to pursue a career in it after graduation. Unburdened by the tens-of-thousands of dollars in student debt I would have racked up at a more expensive university, I am actually free to put my UBC education to work for a greater good.

The proposed increase also changes the decisions families must make to get us here in the first place.

My father is a psychologist and my mother is an attorney. Both have pursued careers in public service, working on Native American water rights and building teen mental health programs. While I’m of course tremendously privileged to have a family that can support my university education at all, raising international tuition will likely exclude children of parents who have not adequately oriented their careers toward making money.

Our university administration apparently sees us as a watered-down McGill or Harvard rather than one of the most affordable top-rate institutions in the world — a university accessible to students from around the world.

The current affordability of our university’s international tuition should be a point of pride for UBC. When I arrived here three years ago, I assumed it was. I thought it reflected an intention to provide an affordable education to all. Yes, international students paid more because we were not subsidized by the provincial government. But we were not charged the absurd amounts that universities in the United States charge — we were not charged as much as UBC thought they could get out of us.

Now we are faced with a university administration that makes a mockery of that assumption. 

Attempts to justify the proposed tuition increases verge on parody as administrators admit to being clueless about the impact higher fees would have on the diversity of the student body —or even how to measure such a thing. Then there’s the fact that UBC has acknowledged they don’t even need the additional revenue, nor do they have any specific plans on how to spend it. Simply put, they think that charging lower tuition than their competitor institutions means they’re doing something wrong. 

In one of my last interviews as an editor at this newspaper, I spoke with Kuol Deng Biong, a South Sudanese student who came to campus from a Kenyan refugee camp. He told me that for refugee students at his high school, a scholarship to UBC was the ultimate prize.

“Every student wanted to come to UBC,” Biong told me, explaining that UBC offers a unique level of support for students like him. “What happens here is not what happens in most schools for refugee students.”

Likewise, many of my international friends here chose UBC because it offered the best package — affordable tuition combined with an excellent education on a gorgeous campus in a vibrant city.

Yet our university administration apparently sees us as a watered-down McGill or Harvard rather than one of the most affordable top-rate institutions in the world — a university accessible to students from around the world. Somewhere in our hulking administrative bureaucracy, UBC’s leadership lost sight of what makes us special. 

But students — international and domestic alike — still understand what makes UBC different. It is that understanding that has caused me to leave my Ubyssey post a few weeks early to take a job with the AMS. I will help organize a campaign to show that, however irrelevant we may be in the intra-university battle for "prestige" and "excellence," students here still have something to say.

It is time to remind the university that we are the heart of UBC and they ignore our voices at their own peril. I’m going to fight like hell to make sure student voices are heard before the Board of Governors votes on the tuition increases December 3. I hope you’ll join me.