An election issue: International students rally against being used as cash cows

International students rally at Dalhousie. Photo courtesy of Felix Kannemann

Tony Seed, Halifax Media Co-op, April 20, 2011 – ON TUESDAY, APRIL 19, some thirty international students at Dalhousie University held an emergency protest rally outside the Mona Campbell business building  – where the Dal board of governors was to meet – to condemn a 10 per cent increase in differential fees over and above the proposed three cent increase in student tuition and by 10 and 14 per cent for medical and dentistry students (in effect, a user pay fee) respectively.

This means that international students will be forced to pay $7,990 in differential payments, up from $7,260.

Despite the drizzling cold rain, the protest, initiated by the African Students’ Union and literally organized overnight, was very vigorous as student after student voiced their opinions as to why the dramatic increase was discriminatory.

Along with the steep increase, students related that they are discriminated in other ways, such as being charged for services provided free to the student body. Gabe Hoogers, the King’s Student Union President, and Rebecca Rose, regional organizer of the Canadian Federation of Students also expressed their solidarity. Ms Rose related that, in a meeting with the N.S. Department of Education, she had been told that there were no provisions being put into place for increasing the differential fees unless (in the small print!) “special circumstances warrant.” This line of “special circumstances” has given the Dalhousie administration the open door to concoct precisely such “circumstances.”

Furthermore, according to Asaf Rashid of the Nova Scotia Public Interest Group, deep cuts are in the offing amongst faculty as departments are being told to cut back some seven per cent from their annual budget across-the-board.

The students pointed that the fee increase is being levied right at the very moment that (1) the student body is dispersing for the summer, effectively unable to respond, and thus disenfranchised from voicing any say in decisions that affect them; (2) Dalhousie university executives are being exposed for appropriating obscene amounts of money in the name of “managing” the university; and (3) Dalhousie is selling ten places in the medical school to the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia at $75,000 each. In a recent article, this was presented by the Globe and Mail as a great “success” story.

“The central issue is what kind of university is Dalhousie and what kind of university this society wants,” one student said. “It is very evident that Dalhousie and Canada only wants students from the very rich, ruling strata in our countries. Often we are even required to prove that we have substantial monetary resources in order to obtain a visa. What sort of internationalism is this?”

Dalhousie’s double standards

Later that afternoon the Board of Governors voted to rubberstamp the fee increase on international students. At the same time, it postponed its vote on the other increases by two weeks after student representatives on the board complained that the administration had not properly consulted with students. What kind of “consultation” with students and with whom is moot, as they are dispersing. Furthermore, the student “representative”, Adam Harris, promised the Chronicle Herald that “Students are willing to pay more. They just need to know why.”

On the other hand, the international students stated explicitly they were not consulted to find out which programs, if any, needed improvements.

President Tom Traves tried to pass the buck, cynically telling the students that “If you have a problem, complain to the provincial government, which created the problem.”

Students couldn’t believe that such seemingly educated people can spin or believe such a fairy tale.

Students have repeatedly demonstrated to no avail at the Nova Scotia legislature, as neither the provincial NDP nor any of the big political parties attempting to woo students as a vote bank in the current federal election recognize that education is a right. The NDP government announced recently that it was cutting transfers to the province’s universities by four per cent. (This reportedly results in a budget shortfall of $14.6 million at Dalhousie.)

Dalhousie recruited a record number of international students – nearly 1,800 – and Traves told the Chronicle Herald he anticipates even more next year. This means that it intends to bleed a minimum $714,000 and counting from the international students.

Differential fees are not solutions; three hundred sixty three thousand and four hundred and eighteen reasons why

Despite student protest, a thinly-attended Board of Governors’ meeting rubberstamps increase. Photo courtesy of Felix Kannemann

Not surprisingly, students did not kindly receive the news of Dalhousie’s executive salary packages.

The African students distributed facsimiles of a Chronicle Herald article revealing that Dalhousie has no lack of disposable funds being absconded from the public. It has boosted top executive salaries from public funds by almost three hundred per cent in the past two years alone.

Of course, in the world of Traves, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. According to the April 16th article by Geoff Bird,

“spending on salaries for the president and associate and assistant vice-presidents more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, going from just over $1.4 million to nearly $3.5 million … The top salary goes to Dalhousie president Tom Traves. It was $363,418 in 2009 and 2010, according to the documents. Senior university management also has access to perks such as free parking and subsidized mortgage rates … A note in the Dalhousie financial report from 2010 says ‘interest-free housing-related loans have been advanced to senior employees of the university.’”

One student rhetorically asked the rally how is it that the university brass is receiving interest-free mortgage loans costing $15,000 a year when ordinary families in the society have to pay through their teeth.

According to the Herald, “The salary for vice-president of research” – mainly linked to privatizing and providing free research to the monopolies – “increased at an annual rate of over seven per cent, nearly a 37 per cent increase over the last five years. (By 2009, it had reached $234,000.)”

At the same time that it aims to cut teaching faculty, Dalhousie has increased the number of executives by five over the past five years, with three added in the past two years at a cost of $800,000.

Traves deserves such a high salary for doing what exactly?

An alternative perspective

Those speaking at the rally included Tony Seed, Marxist-Leninist candidate for Halifax and a student activist in the Sixties, who said he was participating – obviously not because he was after the vote bank of students, or for a “photo op”! – but to express solidarity from the community in the spirit of defending the rights of all.

Tony condemned an institutionalized system that divides students on a racist basis not just on the basis of “international” or “ethnic” students versus Canadian students but other issues as well. It demands that students cannot be political and instead should be pigeons in the multicultural mosaic.

He stressed that international students have the same rights as every other member of the polity in Canada by dint of their being human beings. They have a just claim on the society in which they reside. All across Canada people are fighting for their rights and students are part of that struggle. Within the framework that education is a right which must be provided free, up to and including post-secondary, he pointed out everyone must categorically oppose using international students as cash cows. Canada has reaped tremendous benefits from siphoning off educated personnel from third world countries, as well as through the plunder of their resources. Reparations should include providing poor people from those countries full scholarships to study in Canada.

The students applauded the intervention by taking up the slogan, “Education Is A Right.”

An example from Cuba

Parenthetically, later that same day, the example of the Latin American School of Medicine, which the Cuban government has opened was cited as a positive example of how education can contribute to assisting other nations by two Dalhousie Cuban specialists, Bob Huish and John Kirk. Along with Prof. Isaac Saney they were participating in a panel discussion at Dalhousie on the 50th anniversary of the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba, Bay of Pigs, April 17, 1961, when the Cubans inflicted the first great defeat on U.S. imperialism.

The Latin American School provides training in medicine for youth from Asia, Africa and Latin America and even Canada and the U.S. free of charge.

Dr. Huish, whose research focus on global health inequity and Cuban medical internationalism, cited its example as something constructive which should be adopted in Canada. “Especially during crisis, we should be investing social funds in and expanding education and health for all,” he stated. Condemning Dalhousie’s sale of spots in the medical school to the rich of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Huish declared that “The last thing to cut are progressive investments in people.” He ironically underlined that “twenty six Cubans are presently teaching adult literacy in Northern Ontario because we haven’t gotten around to it.”

For further information, visit – a website set up to collect and publicize all the announcements, comments, feedback and press coverage around the current tuition hikes at Dalhousie and beyond.

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