Article about International Students Causes a Kerfuffle

A number of international students at Brandon University are quite upset at an article published by Brandon University Students’ Union (BUSU) Vice President Internal, Raymond Thomson. The article appeared in the Brandon Sun on December 1st and in The Quill on December 4th.

In his article, Thomson suggested that Brandon University administration should develop an international student recruitment strategy. However, many international students have expressed outrage at Thomson’s choice of wording. They claim that instead of advocating for all students on campus, Thomson is encouraging the university to promote the international student market as a way to financially assist the University.

In an excerpt from his article, Thomson writes, “The lack of federal support for post-secondary education has led to chronically underfunded Canadian universities.” He adds, “International students pay much higher tuition and fees than domestic students. The international student market represents an important economic opportunity for Canadian Universities to exploit.”

“I was very upset, I was very angry actually,” says Baraa Salama, a first year international student from Saudi Arabia. “He did want to come up with a plan to recruit students, but what he actually wrote was just a way of exploiting students [to] make more money out of them.”

Salama was so upset that he brought forth a motion at the BUSU Annual General Meeting (AGM) on December 4th, which included a recommendation that Thomson resign from his position as Vice President Internal. This came after speaking with a number of students, both Canadian and international, who shared his displeasure. “I said we should not be quiet, we should not just stay there and wait,” Salama says. “So I felt we should talk.”

Although the motion died on the floor, when it was discovered the quorum required for the meeting had been lost, the debate was just beginning.

Thomson explains his article was taken out of context. “The purpose of the article was to call upon the university to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the university in the international community.” He goes on to explain that many Canadian and American universities are currently recruiting in countries such as China and Brazil. With BU’s great reputation and programs, he feels the administration should be looking towards these countries as well.

He also notes BU has the lowest international differential fees in the country. “That’s something that I’m proud of, and that I would like to work [towards] reducing, in fact. I think that’s something we need to promote [because] we all do better when there are different people and cultures brought to the university.”

“This has all been completely taken out of context […] in a way that should never have been the case,” says Thomson. “I was elected to represent all students; I was elected to listen to all students, and to learn about the different constituency groups we have at Brandon University. I want to improve the student experience for international students – that’s going to be one of my main goals in the coming weeks and months.”

“In no way, shape, or form, do I want to exploit international students.”

But Salama says international students are looking to see a change. “Our plan right now is to see a change from Raymond. He already apologized, and there was already an apology from [BUSU],” he notes. “If we can bring that change […] then we don’t have to remove him. But if no changes happen, then we can take action – and we will.”

In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, BUSU distanced itself from the article. “It is important to note that while the article was published under Raymond Thomson’s title as a BUSU Executive, his article reflected Thomson’s personal beliefs and not those of the Brandon University Students’ Union.” The release went on to say that BUSU “supports fully accessible, public post-secondary education for both domestic and international students.”

The organization also offered an apology to students. “Although Thomson’s article regarding international students was not written with malicious intent, we recognize that it did upset and offend students and community members. The Brandon University Students’ Union would like to extend an apology to all whom this article offended.”

Thomson and Salama both say they have been speaking regularly, trying to work through the issues. They have said they want to work towards a solution, and also use this opportunity to shine a light on international student issues.

“We’re trying to […] give him a second chance, and see if things can work,” says Salama.

“I’m open to listening; I’m open to learning,” says Thomson. “This was something negative initially, and it did get blown up. But it’s something now that is an opportunity to have a conversation about the issues that affect international students, and what I can do, and what BUSU can do to help their position on campus to make Brandon University more inclusive to international students.”

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 15, December 11, 2012.