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Liberals, NDP, exclude international students from emergency fund

Zain ul Haq

May 4, 2020

The Liberal government's emergency student benefit does nothing for international students, and universities seem to be complicit in this. Trudeau’s Liberals passed the $9 billion Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) contained in bill C-15 on April 29.

In response, students and workers at Simon Fraser University have formed a “Covid-19 coalition”, in an attempt to demand support from the government for international students in the country. The group points out that the CESB is not accessible to international students despite the fact that 1 out of 5 post-secondary students are from abroad and hold a study permit. Furthermore, internationals who do not have a valid social insurance number are also not eligible for CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit). “Internationals at SFU face dire circumstances; without access to emergency income support, many are unable to pay their tuition in addition to rent and MSP fees.” Their media release also notes: “their labour enriches Canadian culture, boosts the national economy, and helps subsidize domestic students”

An article in Policy Options shows how between 2009 and 2016 federal funding for Universites dropped by $1.7 billion, which was almost exactly replaced by the increase of $1.5 billion in international students’ tuition fees. Both the size of international student fees and the number of students have been increased dramatically as the Federal government and university bosses collude to make international students pay for domestic spending cuts.

This reality, which exists in many universities, should make us question the manner in which educational institutions work. What we can see here at SFU is part of a larger tendency of the realization that real power does not actually lie in the hands of the mass of people who make the country, the economy and the education system what it is.

Here are some details on the $9 billion bailout package: The amount of money allotted to those considered eligible is $1250 in most cases, while, initially $1750 for those with a family or other needs. However, this would have made the amount provided to students with a family unequal to the amount provided to others through CERB. Only after opposition by the NDP, the amount was increased to $2000, making it equal to the amount provided under CERB, as reported by CTV. However, the NDP did not show responsible and appropriate opposition to the bailout package by advocating for the necessity to support internationals. This should tell us that if the Liberal party had it their way, the package would be worse for more students on average. The existing package that does not cover 1 out of 5 students is apparently an improved version of what would have been an even more unequal and unjust emergency response package.

Unemployment and monetary difficulties are contagious

Not only is this unequal treatment of people in the country immoral, in many ways, it is economically foolish and a guarantee for a future crisis. Since all international students and workers serve as essential participants in the economy, a failure to provide economic assistance to them means that you are disabling a large segment of the population from economic participation and purchasing power. If all of these participants have less to spend in the economy, this means that there is bound to be a decline in the production of goods and services, often basic ones and therefore, an increase in unemployment. Economic support cannot be provided based on national status; the economic conditions of each and every one of us have an impact on the rest of the population.

A potential lesson that could be learned from the latest relief package is that Canadians do not have a mass workers’ party. There isn’t a party that is willing to make enemies within the status quo and go the extra mile so that all those who gather under our schools, educational institutions and enterprises get a fair and equal excess to basic necessary assistance. This is also a reality that can unfortunately result in a divisions within the working class. When a lot of people who are citizens, end up receiving the monetary support, it can often be easy to dismiss the needs of the many who are not citizens. This is summed up in the press release statement: “Students and workers make SFU what it is, and we all deserve a say in how our University adapts to this time of crisis”.

Find out more about the SFU Covid-19 coalition here

Sign the petition here


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