British Columbia

UBC graduate student advocates for summer tuition waiver

Rina Garcia Chua, a PhD student at UBC Okanagan, says summer tuition for all graduate students should be waived because they do not have access to facilities or many summer jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PhD student Rina Garcia Chua says students don't have access to facilities or their regular summer jobs

A PhD student at the University of British Columbia Okanagan is asking for summer tuition to be waived for graduate students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many universities across the country, UBC announced in mid-March it would be moving classes online for the rest of the semester and non-essential research would be curtailed until the end of April.

Rina Garcia Chua, an international student from the Phillippines, says the move has disrupted research and project timelines for many graduate students, as well as on-campus employment and child care. 

She says the last few weeks have been stressful.

"And it's not just me. All my colleagues," Chua told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

"They have been really affected by this mentally, physically and emotionally, just thinking about where to find that money."

Chua says graduate students have no access to the study spaces and facilities — or even library books — they would normally have in order to complete their projects.

Financially, many rely on off-campus and on-campus employment — like research assistant positions — to help cover costs during the year.

Chua usually teaches at a summer camp but says "obviously, I don't think that's going to happen now."

Rina Garcia Chua is a PhD student at UBC Okanagan. (Rina Garcia Chua/Personal website)

Although the province announced on Thursday a one-time, $3.5-million investment in emergency financial help for post-secondary students struggling due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is only available to domestic students. 

As an international student, Chua doesn't qualify. She is also extremely worried about the situation back home in the Phillippines. 

She has been checking in with her family every day and has been trying to secure them supplies. President Rodrigo Duterte's recent threats to shoot anyone who violates lockdown orders have done nothing to calm her fears. 

"I couldn't sleep last night just thinking about those strong words and all my colleagues there who are facing this kind of threat," she said.

"We're going through such complex situations right now, financial worries should be the least of our problems." 

In response, Matt Ramsay, director of university affairs at UBC, said the university acknowledges "these are not ideal circumstances for our graduate students but these are exceptional times that require exceptional responses to keep the community safe."

He said the university is working with faculty supervisors and students to support alternative means for them to continue their scholarly development, as well as looking into potential supports for affected graduate students. 

He added any student experiencing financial need can contact an enrolment services advisor for information on UBC assistance programs.

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With files from Radio West