Initiative to address international students’ needs

New co-ordinator positions within SGPS created to advocate for graduate international students

International Student Coordinators Amir Nosrat and Becky Pero want to increase the SGPS’s communication and engagement with International students on campus.
International Student Coordinators Amir Nosrat and Becky Pero want to increase the SGPS’s communication and engagement with International students on campus.

Ozgun Topack said he would be thrilled to introduce his Canadian friends to Turkish Raki (an anise flavoured spirit.)

Topack, PhD’ 13, is one of 500 international graduate students at Queen’s, but he is the only non-Canadian in his group of 40 colleagues. Topack, originally from Turkey, came to Queen’s two years ago. Living abroad definitely influenced his work as a sociology student in a positive way, he told the Journal via e-mail.

While Topack has generally had a positive experience at Queen’s, he said the University has not done its best to ensure international students are treated fairly.

“All international students are having problems, mostly about low scholarships that we receive from the University,” he said. “External scholarships for international students are extremely limited and Queen’s doesn’t provide good internal scholarships at the same time.”

Principal Woolf mentioned in his ‘Where Next?’ document that he wanted to attract and enroll more international students at Queen’s, but Topack said the motives behind this initiative won’t benefit the University in the long run.

“In the new academic plan, undergraduate international students are being regarded as financial resources, and there’s no limit on the amount that they can charge for international students, unlike domestic students,” he said. “This might help Queen’s in the short-term, but in the long-term I worry that it will turn Queen’s into a university where only privileged students can attend, hindering academic excellence.”

Topack said if tuition fees keep increasing for international students, the University will no longer attract the very students who could positively contribute to academic and cultural life at Queen’s.

“International students must be represented, as we are one of the most vulnerable groups at Queen’s, and we lack a real voice in the planning process.”

Topack said the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is doing a great job in focusing on these issues, but students should be more active within the SGPS and the University in general. He said SGPS engagement with the international graduate student population will improve with the creation of the new International Students Coordinators positions.

Two graduate students have filled these roles. Becky Pero, MA’ 11, and Amir Nosrat, MSc’ 10, started their positions Aug. 23.

The positions aim to support international full-time graduate and professional students at Queen’s in both academic and personal areas. Pero and Nosrat want to use their positions to advocate for these students and the issues they face.

“We want to ensure that there’s communication to international students and that their needs are being met. The SGPS has historically been proactive in trying to engage students and the challenges they face,” Pero said.

Information regarding tuition, the availability of awards and housing are not always clearly presented or available to international students, Pero said, adding that the Queens’s University International Centre (QUIC), a main support network for international students, has received reduced funding in the past few years. “We envision a point B where there are a lot more policies that favour international students at the University and SGPS level. Socializing problems that international students face by domestic students can be very controversial,” Nosrat said.

Currently, international students have to pay $800 to be granted The University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP), which domestic students are automatically entitled to. Nosrat is planning on trying to change this by having domestic students partially subsidize UHIP fees for international students.

“Part of our job is to lobby on behalf of international students, whether that be to the government, or to the university and SGPS itself.” Nosrat said that the creation of the International Student Coordinators positions fell under the SGPS equity team’s portfolio, and that it was the last concrete initiative that needed to be taken in facilitating international students’ needs.

“The positions were created before the document was published, but a lot of the issues apply to this role,” he said. “The University has always had a parallel policy of wanting to increase international students, while offering them less resources at the same time.”

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