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Lakehead University international students speak out against tuition hikes

The Lakehead University Student Union says it's waiting for a response from the university to concerns it raised last month about tuition increases for international students.

Student union met with university last month to discuss students' frustrations

Alexey Babich is a third-year electrical engineering student at Lakehead University who is facing a 13 per cent increase in his tuition this coming year. (Logan Turner / CBC News)

The Lakehead University Student Union says it's waiting for a response from the university to concerns it raised last month about tuition increases for international students.

International student tuition for many programs will increase five to six per cent this year, with engineering students paying 13 per cent more.

LUSU met with university administration last month to discuss students' frustrations, said Prabhjot Singh Ahuja, LUSU's vice president, operations and finance. 

"The meeting was very good. However, at this point, we're just waiting for them to reply," added vice president, advocacy Amla Sandur. 

'Losing trust'

On Friday, several international students held a media availability at the university to tell their stories.

"Most international students come from poor countries. They get hit a lot more," said Alexey Babich, a third-year electrical engineering student from Kazakhstan, referring to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Some of their parents, they lost their jobs, and they are not able to pay those fees now."  

Babich has not personally been impacted by the tuition hikes, he said, as his father's business survived the pandemic, but he has friends who have had to quit school and leave town.

"They are losing trust," he said of the university. "You can increase the fees right now, and you will get some money on the balance sheet. But in the end, the students are going to get disappointed. They are going to write bad reviews. Less students are going to come here." 

Dev Patel, a third-year psychology student, questioned why the university was raising fees at a time when COVID-19 is impacting service levels. 

"The main question is, if the classes are online, shouldn't Lakehead be decreasing the fees instead of increasing?"

Student leaders make demands

The student leaders have presented the university with a list of demands, Ahuja said. 

Those included:

  • Freezing or reduce tuition fees.  
  • Increasing financial aid. 
  • Extending the deadline for tuition fee payment —students are currently charged $100 if they fail to pay by Aug. 15.
  • Creating equal employment opportunities for international students on campus.

Right now, there are only around 15 jobs available for international students because they are not included in the work-study program, Ahuja said, and he would like to see that changed.   

LUSU has also asked for a second student representative on the Lakehead board of governors and for efforts to increase diversity among staff. 

Lakehead has already committed to increasing bursaries for international students, Ahuja said. 

Meanwhile, LUSU has launched a so-called Myth Busters campaign aimed at educating people about the struggles facing international students.

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