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Last week, the University Council voted to increase the majority of tuition fees by four per cent. For the first time in recent memory, the gallery was not just full of VUWSA, Salient and student protesters, but a notable cohort in the front row of international students from the VUWSA International Students’ Representative Group. The VISRG, as they are known, are a new representative group set up this year, and they’d come along to support President Ramon Quitales. Ramon spoke to the Council about a recent report they’d put together on international students’ concerns and what they’d like changed.
International students have been at Victoria for a pretty long time now, but I think that the presence of VISRG at the fees meeting marked something pretty significant. There are thousands of international students at Victoria, and as the University aims to grow its student numbers, it has signalled pretty clearly that the number of international (read: full-fee-paying) students needs to grow too. The rapid growth of the international students’ rep group shows that international students want a real say in their experience at Victoria, and want value for money for their $20–30,000 in fees.
I said to Council that for many students, the debates about whether tuition-fee rises were right or wrong isn’t really up for debate any more, especially when the Government has frozen a lot of the funding for universities. Many of us have accepted the constant rise of fees, because it always happens. If this is the case, then as students, we should be negotiating with the University about what the exact value is that we get for continual fees increases.
Whether it’s ensuring tutorials don’t grow in size, or the creation of an International House to ensure international students have a place for cultures to be celebrated, I want to see a shift in the narrative so that we talk value for money. I want international students to feel that the education they receive at Victoria is one they are proud to carry for the rest of their lives. And that that will happen when international students have a genuine voice in the decision-making of this institution, and feel that the spending of their huge student fees is a transparent and accountable process. As a student on University Council, I am committed to improving this. It can feel pretty disempowering to receive the papers that recommended the fee rise just a week before the meeting, and to not have had input into most of the fee-setting process.
Earlier this year, you may have filled out the ‘budget simulator’, an interactive tool to help you decide where your student-services money is spent. What similar things could we do for student fees? Let’s make the process a whole lot more productive by focussing on what can we achieve. I think we owe that to our international students, who have no choice but to pay huge amounts of money to access a Victoria education.