Capilano University has seen a large increase of Punjabi students over the last four years—but are they equipped to support them?
Manjot Kaur // Contributor
Christine Wei // Illustrator
There has been a gradual increase of international students studying at Capilano University (CapU) since its rebranding in 2017, but what’s significant is that a vast majority of these students are from Punjab, India. In 2019, CapU received nearly $9 million more in tuition fees compared to the previous year where international students made up 20 per cent of the student body—and $20 million more than in 2015.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 296,469 international students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary institutions in the 2017-18 academic year and students from India accounted for 23 per cent of that. The Federal Government’s 2019-24 International Education Strategy states that it seeks to “promote global ties and foster a vibrant Canadian economy.” This initiative, plus the flourishing South Asian communities in Canada appeal to Punjabi international students.
Dilpreet Singh Bhatia, International Students Liaison for the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU), helps international students with their problems and concerns by relaying their issues to the CSU governing body. As a Punjabi international student himself, he can attest to the long, tedious and bureaucratic process of trying to get Permanent Residency (PR). Students have to pass with a minimum 6.5 score on the IELTS exam (International English Language Testing System) and are usually required to hire an immigration consultant to apply for an offer letter.
The costs of enrolling as an international student at CapU are steep: a $5000 non-refundable fee that goes towards tuition, a $10,000 government-controlled GIC (guaranteed investment certificate) account for living expenses and a $9,000 tuition fee per semester. The average national tuition costs for undergraduate international students rose 7.6 per in the 2019/20 period, where on average domestic students saw a decrease of 5.3 per cent. This disproportionate increase sparked the CAP-IT campaign led by the CSU, which calls for the international student fee increase to be capped at 2 pe cent with the rate of inflation.
Bhatia has been living in Canada for two years and hopes to apply for permanent residency once his three-year work permit nears expiration. Like many of the Punjabi students at Capilano, Bhatia prefers to live in Surrey as landlords are open to international students sharing rooms to reduce overall costs of living. However, attending classes in North Vancouver results in up to four hours of transit to and from school each day.
While Bhatia applauds the CSU for advocating for international students in recent years—from hosting social events to being attentive to their concerns—he stresses the need to offer literacy support to Punjabi international students. Not all students have the privilege of the time and energy to actively seek out help overcoming the language and the educational barriers they face. Students either attended schools where English wasn’t a requirement or schools where learning English was a priority. The latter gives students an upper hand in their English literacy, but the majority of schools are the former, causing students to feel overwhelmed by the various discrepancies.
Bhatia commented that he and other Punjabi students have faced different levels of discrimination at CapU. “Some professors are selective in who gets to speak in class,” he said, stating the concerns Punjabi students have voiced to him and added that other teachers don’t seem to consider the students’ barriers when grading. Marking through “equal education” to students who haven’t received the same base English literacy education as their peers is more likely to discourage them than motivate them.
With greater inflation of international students, resources like immigration consulting and course registration help require more personnel and attention. Permanent residency is acquired through a point-based system, by the Canadian Immigration Council (CIC). Many international students prefer a two-year study visa as it offers a safe length of time to ensure being able to meet the point requirements and a four-year bachelor’s program may be too expensive for students.
However, not all international students from Punjab opt for two-year study programs. Twenty-three-year-old Mayur Aggarwal has been enrolled in the Bachelor of Business Administration program since 2016 and has goals of becoming a chartered accountant later this year. “The reasons for wanting to study and immigrate to Canada are subjective to each individual student,” said Aggarwal and added that it will vary from person to person. Aggarwal felt that he hadn’t gotten a chance for practical learning experiences in India, in an environment that nurtures critical thinking and adds that he is thankful to have found that here.
Aggarwal pointed out that during his first semester of study, he only remembers seeing around five or six other Punjabi students in all of his five classes. “Now you’ll find that at least half the class is Punjabi,” he said. He’d also found it hard to make friends while entering a new culture but now feels at home with many familiar faces. Aggarwal stated that he feels supported by the resources provided by CapU and the Wong and Trainor Centre for International Experience. However, he wishes that he’d been more aware and proactive in utilizing the writing centre, math learning centre, and various workshops in his first two years of study. Aggarwal’s main concern is “the lack of awareness amongst international students of the scholarship opportunities available to them, through active participation in school activities and volunteering.”
The first two years are often the entire duration of study for many international students and according to the CSU and international student fees made up 80 per cent of tuition revenue the following year. CapU should use that revenue to allocate more resources towards making that initial transition easier and create more outreach to engage and provide guidance for new international students as many international students have expressed frustration when their questions not being directed appropriately. Ultimately, many questions have been left unanswered where they have to rely on and pay for external immigration counsellors.
The Wong and Trainor Centre for International Experience could not be reached for comment.