Dalhousie international students call for reduced tuition after coronavirus moves classes online

Dalhousie University is one of the latest post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia to announce the majority of their classes will be moving online until 2021.

A memo was sent to students on Wednesday, stating there won’t be any in-person, on-campus courses before January 2021.

The decision has prompted international student Siam Ashraful to create an online petition, asking the university to reduce tuition fees.

She said the tuition is too high, particularly for international students who don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CERB) grant and already pay significantly higher tuition than domestic students.

“Since we’re paying like almost three times the tuition fees compared to Canadians, there should be an appropriate response in terms of tuition,” Ashraful said.

“We are all affected by this. So I would say they should take this into consideration when they are announcing the tuition fees for the next semester.”

A spokesperson with Dalhousie said a decision hasn’t been made yet on tuition fees for the Fall 2020 term.

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However, the university is currently discussing recommendations and they’ll share that information with the student community when they’re in a position to do so.

While Ashraful said he understands public health measures still need to be in place for the remainder of the year, he doesn’t feel it’s fair to keep the tuition fees the same for international students.

The provincial minister for advanced education, Labi Kousoulis, said it’s too early to determine what financial position universities will be in by fall and whether or not reducing tuition is feasible.

He said many universities are taking on a significant upfront cost to invest in the required technology development to deliver online learning.

“These platforms they are developing, it’s not like what we use in our day-to-day lives when we want to talk to friends and family. In terms of an app or software program, they are creating pretty robust systems and the price tag is in a million dollar plus range for every institution,” Kousoulis said.

Kousoulis said the province is currently focused on how to support universities as they transition to online learning.

He said there will be a clearer picture of what financial support universities may need from the province closer to the fall.

“Universities have been a big driver in our economy, and I’m going to sit there and work with them to see how they can further drive the economy and how we can help them with some funding to do so,” he said.

As for Ashraful, he remains hopeful that his online petition will spur conversations around the need for reduced tuition fees. He isn’t able to find work right now due to the pandemic and his father was laid off in his home country of Bangladesh.

That makes it even more difficult to pay a tuition fee that may not be reduced in the face of a global pandemic which has put many people out of work.

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