The University of British Columbia is building an exclusive new college at a cost of more than $127 million, but Canadian students need not apply. The college will house only high-paying international students, most of them from China.

It may only be a big hole in the ground right now, but the Vantage College project has already angered many university students who say the money could have been better spent to improve student housing and limit tuition increases.

UBC student Aspen Dirk

UBC student Aspen Dirk says the university is increasingly becoming an elitist school. (CBC)

"It's very disrespectful, said UBC student Aspen Dirk, "and a bit of a slap to the face."

Students say UBC is spending $127.5 million at a time when money is tight to build a stand-alone college complete with its own residential tower for 1,000 international students.

The website for the college, which targets wealthy overseas Asian students, promises "round the clock support," a "custom curriculum,"  and lower class sizes.

It allows students whose English-language test scores don't meet UBC's standards (but whose academic standards do) to enter a special first-year program designed just for them. If they complete the first-year program successfully, then they are able to continue into their second year at UBC.

Students will pay more than $50,000 a year for the privilege which includes tuition, accommodation and health care.

International students only

Even domestic students with English-as-a-second-language needs who can afford it, still aren't welcome.

Zachary Crispin

The Canadian Federation of Students says UBC's priorities are wrong and the university should be looking at supporting existing students. (CBC)

"You can only apply to Vantage College if you are an international student, not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident," says the Vantage College website.

The Canadian Federation of Students says trying to make up funding shortfalls by building an elite college for wealthy students is backwards thinking.

"Vantage College is one instance of where the funding priorities are wrong and what we need to be doing is looking at where we're failing current and existing students and Canadians who are in the system right now," says spokesman Zachary Crispin.

While UBC pours money into Vantage College and its 1,000-room tower, it faces a student housing shortage with 5,200 people on the waiting list. Students are also looking at a 20 per cent increase in housing fees. 

Next year's regular international students, whose fees are more than double those of domestic students, are facing a 10 per cent tuition fee increase.

UBC students worry about creation of elite class 

UBC's student association worries Vantage College students will be living a segregated, privileged existence.

Anne Kessler

UBC Alma Mater Society vice-president Anne Kessler says students' big worry is the university may be creating an elite class of students who won't be fully integrated. (CBC)

"It really is a big worry that they're not going to be fully integrated and they're going to be separate and continue to be friends with each other, but maybe not the wider community," said Alma Mater Society vice-president Anne Kessler.

"I think there's kind of a sense that, what are these students doing here? Are they really going to be integrated into campus? Are they getting better services?"

UBC says it is building Vantage College to provide better support to students whose second language is English, but admits it can also use the revenue. 

Angela Redish, the university's associate vice-president of enrolment, says Vantage College will help alleviate financial pressure on the university, which also benefits students.

"UBC is facing financial pressures as are public institutions across the continent, maybe across the globe, and this is one of the ways are trying to deal with that," she said.

Angela Redish

UBC associate vice-president of enrolment, Angela Redish, says Vantage College is designed to better support international students whose second language is English (CBC)

But that still doesn't sit well with some students.

"UBC is becoming more and more an elitist school," says Dirk, "...the poor need not apply."

Even without a bricks-and-mortar building, there's already been an initial intake of 200 Vantage College students in September. Those students displaced a number of regular UBC students from existing campus housing as the Vantage College residential tower isn't ready yet.

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin