The University of British Columbia recently announced that it will build a new international student-only college, meant to boost the English language skills of the 1,000 students it will house.
While it might be smart to provide more focused English language instruction and assistance to students new to the language, it’s a mistake to wall them off from the rest of the student body, even in the first year. It’s also worrying that the college will, by necessity, only attract students from rich families to the school, since its one-year tuition rate tops $50,000.
UBC’s Vantage College is like the next step in someone’s slippery slope argument against large international student populations on Canadian campuses. I can almost hear it being made, “Oh, what’s next? A university that’s only for international students?”
The idea of boosting university revenue with international student tuition is not a new idea. Universities have been doing that for years. TRU does it, too. Nearly one in five students on the TRU campus is an international student, and since those students pay more than three times as much for their education, they’re a significant part of the university’s revenue stream.
In terms of filling in budget gaps, which there are more and more of as government subsidies fall off, international students are worth more to the university than domestic students.
In a way, UBC is just addressing this fact head on, perhaps not thinking about the consequences of doing so. It sees a revenue stream and is tapping into it. It’s doing what any smart business would do.
But that’s the problem. While universities need to act to remain solvent they have to be mindful of their business moves while doing so. It can never be about money at any cost.
And other than the money, the college will serve no purpose to domestic students or even the student body at large. It will serve a narrow minority of students from other countries with families rich enough to send them here. It won’t be about adding any cultural value to campus. It won’t be about the international student experience or even meeting people who are different from yourself, since the college will target students from Mainland China.
The act of walling off first-year students is doing them a disservice. Keeping them from the rest of the student body is doing that student body a disservice, too. There has to be an advantage to having international students around other than the money they bring with them. If there isn’t, what kind of campus culture are we creating? What claim could UBC ever make towards campus diversity if its actions create such different classes of students?