How exercise could positively benefit international students’ mental health

Thesis broadens limited research on physical activity of international students in Canada

How exercise could positively benefit international students’ mental health

The mental health crisis affects international students in unique ways due to additional stressors such as acculturation — the changes that result from contact with culturally dissimilar people, groups, and social influences. A recent thesis by Douglas Enrique Rosa, who recently completed his Master of Science at U of T’s Department of Exercise Sciences, dealt with how exercise could supplement psychotherapy and psychiatry, particularly for vulnerable international students.

Rosa completed a literature review and conducted two studies to submit his thesis under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Sabiston, a professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Mental Health.

Why do international students face so much stress at universities?

In one of Rosa’s studies, he analyzed data from domestic and international students from a 2016 national health survey that involved 605 international students and 4035 domestic students.

“We did notice that international students are experiencing the same amount of stress, the same amount of high mental illness as domestic students,” Rosa told The Varsity.

Rosa found in his thesis that students generally reported high levels of stress, which was significantly correlated with mental illness symptoms. Yet Rosa also found a significant negative association between mental illness symptoms and physical activity, and conversely a positive relationship between exercise and mental health.

“Physical activity could be one of those good positive avenues to help international students feel better on campus whenever they come to our university,” remarked Rosa.

However, according to the survey analysis, only 12 per cent of international students and 15 per cent of domestic students met the World Health Organization’s physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

To follow up, Rosa’s second study involved interviews with 12 international students as an initial small-scale study.

The participants reported different sources of stress, including financial concerns, difficulty connecting with peers, perceptions of discrimination, and high academic stress. These combined factors limited the time they perceived to be available for physical activity.

Though exercise does not directly resolve the major sources of stress affecting international students, Rosa wrote in his thesis that three major studies have associated exercise with increased cognitive performance — such as improved attention, reading accuracy, and memorization.

Rosa concluded in his thesis that physical activity could be an effective coping strategy for international students to adapt to the stresses of entering their new university environment. His studies could be useful for advocates’ plans to better accommodate international students, noted Sabiston to The Varsity.

The implications of Rosa’s research

Rosa’s studies have enabled researchers to better understand the barriers to physical activity among international students on campus, wrote Sabiston, which could help “suggest ways to initiate actionable strategies targeting international students specifically.”

Reflecting on his research, Rosa said that physical activity is an important part of his life. While advocates often do an effective job at highlighting the importance of physical activity, he noted, there can be ways to improve the messaging for international students.

“[Rosa’s] work is the tip of the iceberg in the overall care and support for this important group of students on campus,” Sabiston wrote. “Now we can test some of the suggested ways to intervene and see if they work to improve physical activity and mental health.”

As a direct result of Rosa’s studies, Sabiston’s faculty secured a grant from the International Students Experience Fund.

The grant has enabled the team to improve activities geared toward increasing the physical activity of international students, holding focus groups for answering lingering questions from Rosa’s research, and drafting unique messages for physical activity, according to Sabiston.

“Douglas’s findings supported the need for more tailored or directed attention on international students within Sports and Rec on campus,” she wrote.

Ontario universities sees dramatic increase in international enrollment, tuition over past decade

Toronto Star investigation suggests boom in international enrollment acts as replacement for government funding

Ontario universities sees dramatic increase in international enrollment, tuition over past decade

U of T is one of the many colleges and universities in Ontario that, according to a recent survey by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharine’s Standard, are experiencing a boom in international student enrollment. Accompanied by increasing international student tuition costs, this suggests that these universities may see international tuition fees as a viable replacement for government funding.

While the university is currently encountering financial pressures from decreased provincial funding, these growths corroborate earlier estimations made by The Varsity that the university would use international tuition to replace funding lost as a result of the Ford government’s new policies.

The investigation found that international student enrollment in Canada has increased by 73 per cent since 2014, partially due to new laws that make it easier for non-Canadian students to work and attain permanent resident status. U of T alone has seen an increase in international student enrollment from 10 per cent of the total student body in 2008–2009 to 24 per cent in 2019–2020.

For many schools, international students are a lucrative alternative to provincial grants — the demographic brought in $21.6 billion to the Canadian economy in the last year alone, reported the Star.

For the 2018–2019 year, the average tuition for a domestic student at U of T was between $6,780 and $15,760, while international student tuition ranged from $34,180–54,840. In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson commented that “tuition is similar to that of other globally leading universities.

While domestic fees are government regulated, international tuition fees are unregulated and decided by the university. For the 2019–2020 academic year, 87 per cent of U of T’s operating revenues will come from tuition, other student fees, and provincial operating grants — with the proportion from provincial grants declining.

Enrollment-related revenue is expected to increase by 2.9 per cent in the 2019–2020 school year, despite there being no increase in provincial operating grants, and the 10 per cent reduction of domestic tuition fees mandated by the Ford government, both of will have been offset by a 5.4 per cent average yearly increase in international tuition fees.

In response to the higher tuition fees for international students, the U of T spokesperson wrote, “universities don’t receive provincial funding for international students as we do for Canadian students. Canadian students and their families pay taxes that flow back to universities and colleges, so we ask international students to pay their share.”

The three-part investigation from the Star and the Standard offered a few suggestions to prevent universities from taking advantage of international students. Among them being increased provincial operating grants and government support for incoming international students — or that schools could offer training to staff, better language support, and more robust support services.

U of T plans to continue to invest in academic and co-curricular programming, counselling, and support services for international students, according to the U of T spokesperson, who also mentioned other services that the university provides to international students, “such [as] language assistance, additional orientation and advisors to help them learn everything from navigating the TTC to understanding U of T’s academic culture and expectations.”

“International students benefit from studying at the University of Toronto and we benefit from their presence,” wrote the spokesperson. “International students enrich our community with their experiences, fostering a vibrant exchange of perspectives and opinions and helping us build relationships around the world.”

Fine, charge us a higher tuition — but support us, too

U of T needs to address the shortcomings of the international student experience

Fine, charge us a higher tuition — but support us, too

People often ask international students like me about our reason for coming to U of T, where we make up 21 per cent of the student body. For most, the answer remains rooted in U of T’s world-class reputation, the nature of its academic environment and, most importantly, the competitive quality of teaching one can expect to receive during their time here.

But the subtext of this question is typically asking why we choose to pay such a high tuition rate. For me, the opportunity to study here was an achievement that opened up new doors away from my comfort zone. This was enough reason to accept the financial commitment that it places on my family for the next few years. However, it is clear to me now that for many international students, this is a price that seems to be more of a burden given the experience that they have been offered thus far. 

Some have taken to expressing these views online through humour, with one recent Facebook user contributing a meme to the group UofT memes for true 🅱️lue teens, picturing President Meric Gertler flipping through pages on “how to make money from international students.”

Following the Ford government’s proposed changes to postsecondary funding, The Varsity has reported on the ways in which this decision can lead to the university increasing international enrolment to compensate for the downturn in revenue. Currently, the price tag on a degree from U of T for international students is well over $50,000, just for tuition. Furthermore, international tuition is currently the biggest source of revenue for the university at 30 per cent — more than even the provincial government’s funding. Overall, conversations concerning increasing international enrolment revolve around financial exploitability.

However, the term ‘exploitation’ does not effectively reflect my concerns with this drive to increase international enrolment. In Gertler’s interview with The Varsity, he brought up the need to match “peer institutions” in the US, some of which have higher international enrolment. U of T supposedly needs to increase its global character, as the classroom environment benefits from the presence of international students. While I agree with the benefit assessment, the comparison seems to suggest that status and competitiveness require quotas to be met.

This is not the case. The competitive status of U of T is a reflection of its selectivity in recruiting students and the prestige of its academic offerings — not the number of international applicants. I have found this benefit most reflected through the presence of talented international students in my  classes and the increased quality of discourse, especially in debating peers who hold different worldviews to my own.

To increase the quality of talent that U of T recruits abroad is a proper objective, but I fear that a drive to increase international enrolment is not intended to serve this end. There are only so many students this university can accommodate, and a drive to increase international enrolment might, in turn, lead to a decrease in domestic enrolment.

An increase in international student enrolment correlates with an increase in the university’s operational budget, which is how the university is able to maintain the quality of experience it currently offers. Yet there is very little that the university does to support international students in their classrooms and integrate them into the broader community.

While Gertler may point to the Centre for International Experience (CIE) as an example of this, my experience is that the CIE lacks the resources to help students like me with the challenge of finding their own sense of community at the university and in the wider city.

Furthermore, the international student label often comes with the assumption of abundant financial security, which Gertler also highlighted. We are stereotypically portrayed as excessively wealthy and lacking in contribution to university life, which is not necessarily the case. A peer of mine from California said that “there is a consensus that international students bought their way into this school” — but they “worked just as hard as anyone else to be here.”

I understand the need for international student fees to be higher than domestic fees, given that in the former case the province does not provide per student funding. But the 36 per cent increase in fees since 2015 is a cost that does not commensurately contribute toward an equal experience for international students.

An increase in international tuition fees is not necessarily an increase in the value of education that this university offers. These fees do not take into account or address the difficulty and cost that international students face in moving and settling into another country and facing social barriers as a foreigner.

U of T has the resources to impact and resolve these issues by funding initiatives that encourage student integration and support the transition into university for international students. Rivalling our peer institutions must begin with making access to this university accessible for those who deserve to be here.

Neeharika Hemrajani is a first-year Humanities student at St. Michael’s College.

With Ford’s postsecondary changes, UTM loses too

Student Choice Initiative and domestic tuition cut threaten to undermine student life, exploit international students

With Ford’s postsecondary changes, UTM loses too

Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced the controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which will give students the option to opt out of incidental, “non-essential” fees. These may include fees that go toward student unions, clubs and societies, and campus newspapers. While the Ford government highlights the importance of providing students with choice, this policy puts many student services into jeopardy — including here at UTM.

Unfortunately, students may underestimate the importance of student unions, such as the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The UTMSU provides services and a single voice for UTM students in fighting for their interests independently from the university. The prospect of reduced fees means that the union may not be able to effectively function and advocate for change.

UTM students should remember that it is through UTMSU advocacy that they enjoy many important and popular services. For example, the U-Pass is a necessity for many students to affordably commute. Such a privilege does not come out of thin air — it is the outcome of a strong willingness from the UTMSU to fight for its students.

While the government has assured that existing transit passes will not be affected by the SCI, plans for improved passes in the future — such as a GTA-wide pass, which the UTMSU is looking into — will likely be out of reach.

The university administration does not always see student interests as a top priority, but the union exists to ensure that students are heard. The most recent example of this is the Course Retake Policy, which has given students the option of retaking a course and having only the second grade included in their GPA. According to the UTMSU, it had been pushing the policy for seven years. Clearly, getting the university to accommodate administrative changes is not an easy feat to accomplish.

The UTMSU has also been dedicated to tackling food issues on campus. Free Breakfast Wednesdays, which are intended to help fight food insecurity on campus,have been a regular occurrence for the past two years. Similarly, the Food Centre, which provides non-perishable items to students free of charge, is another important student-driven measure that is funded by a $0.50 levy. In 2015, The Medium reported that the centre’s usage had increased drastically from the previous year.

The UTMSU has also declared its struggle against rising food prices on campus. Since Chartwells has a monopoly over campus food, it is arduous to pursue price reductions. The UTMSU may be committed to this fight; however, it is of no avail if its own survival is in peril.

The UTMSU also supplies a huge amount of funding for clubs and student societies, which offer students the opportunity to meet like-minded people, form a sense of community and belonging, and engage in activities of interest. That is what I have gained from my involvement with the Sociology and Criminology Society. The SCI puts club funding in serious jeopardy. Limiting student clubs takes away many opportunities for campus experience outside the classroom.

The SCI also threatens the student media. Student media crucially hold the university and student governments accountable, keep students informed about campus issues, and provide a platform for free and diverse expression. Campus media also endow students with invaluable journalism experience. I have spoken to UTM alumni who have cited their experiences at The Medium as one of the highlights of their university careers. I’ve been involved with both The Medium and The Varsity, and I find my experience with campus journalism irreplaceable.

Another aspect of Ford’s announced postsecondary changes is the 10 per cent domestic tuition cut. Though it appears to benefit students, it will not come with increased university funding. This means that university revenues will take a hit. In response, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull has suggested over-enrolling international students next year as compensation. If implemented, UTM’s international student population will increase from 24 per cent to 25 per cent of the student body.

While this may not seem like a significant increase, there are several problems with this proposal. Krull has already said that the university has faced issues accommodating so many students. With the Davis and North buildings still under construction, there is limited classroom and study space. If UTM plans to increase the number of international students, it will have to increase its resources and space allocation as well — and there is no indication that they will do so. Admitting more students can decrease the quality of the student experience. Since UTM previously announced decreasing the number of incoming students, this sudden announcement seems to be misguided and abrupt.

Over-enrolling international students is also not fair to international students. It seems that the administration is willing to exploit the fact that international tuition is unregulated and use international students as moneymakers. International students already pay thrice the tuition fees of domestic students, yet they do not receive any special accommodations or specific resources to reflect this hefty amount. Instead, they are likely to face bigger obstacles in adjusting to a new environment with little support.

The Ford government’s approach to postsecondary funding is alarming. The SCI and tuition cut are ultimately against student life and affordability on campuses. UTM students must critically review and challenge these changes.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.

The Breakdown: How the Ford government’s changes could affect international students

Tuition to stay within predetermined schedule, enrolment may increase to accommodate domestic tuition cut

The Breakdown: How the Ford government’s changes could affect international students

International students make up a majority of U of T’s tuition revenue stream and a sizeable portion of the undergraduate population, but it is not entirely clear how they will be affected by the provincial government’s recently announced changes to postsecondary funding. Here, The Varsity rounds up reporting from the past month about how international students could be affected by these cuts.

U of T stands to lose $88 million from its projected budget in the first year following the 10 per cent tuition cut mandated by the provincial government, and will either have to cut its budget or increase revenue accordingly.

By The Varsity’s estimates, international students contribute close to $1 billion in tuition fees to U of T. Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost of U of T, told The Varsity that the university will not be increasing international tuition for the upcoming academic year more than already planned to make up for the loss in domestic tuition revenue, and that international intake will depend on decisions made by individual programs.

According to Regehr, international tuition will continue to follow the published schedule. The average weighted international tuition fee increase in 2018–2019 was six per cent, with the base Arts & Science international student tuition at UTSG coming in at $49,800 in 2017–2018.

At a UTM Campus Council meeting on January 30, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull suggested over-enrolling international students to compensate for the domestic tuition cut.

Krull elaborated in a statement to The Varsity that, though UTM took in an unexpected number of international students in the fall, the campus still has room to increase its international population. Where UTM had intended to have about 25 per cent international enrolment — which is currently at about 24 per cent — over-enrolling students would be “a change in timing and not a change in the substance of our longer-term academic plan,” said Krull.

The Varsity estimates that UTM’s regulated fee programs will lose $10 million in domestic tuition revenue due to the provincial mandate. Currently, UTM receives around $100 million in domestic tuition revenue per year.

Krull further added that he hopes to have a plan to deal with the impact of the tuition cuts by the end of March.

“This is a complex problem involving many participants, where impacts are quite different on a unit depending on the action taken. It will be weeks before an integrated set of actions is developed, and this will then be tuned in further iterations with unit leaders to achieve some good level of consensus before calling this a plan.”

Data at U of T: gender demographics, donations, wireless connections

Breaking down the publicly released data the university collected in 2017

Data at U of T: gender demographics, donations, wireless connections

Every year, the Office of Planning and Budget Office releases a report on the demographic data that U of T collects, including figures on international enrolment, the number of degrees awarded by field, and even the average number of wireless connections per day.

Notably, engineering and science degrees were heavily skewed toward male recipients, while education and physical education degrees were mostly given to female students.

The report also shows that an overwhelming amount of international students at U of T are from China, with other countries making up a small percentage in comparison.

Here’s a breakdown of what that data shows and what stood out.

Student gender balance

Of the 65,051 full-time undergraduate students last year, 55.7 per cent identified as female, 43.7 per cent as male, 22 students as another gender identity, and 341 students’ gender identities remained undisclosed. In its collection of data on student gender, the university only started including the category of “another gender identity” in 2017.

In comparison to figures from 2007, the university has maintained the ratio of female to male full-time undergraduate and graduate students.

Part-time undergraduates were 61 per cent female in 2007. The 2017 data shows a slight majority male student population among part-time undergraduates.

Part-time graduate students had the largest disparity in gender, with 64.4 per cent of the population identifying as female — two per cent up from 2007 numbers.

Data on the number of degrees awarded by field of study for the 2016 calendar year shows large gender disparities in the areas of engineering and physical sciences, education and physical education, and mathematics and physical sciences.

Engineering and physical science degrees overrepresented male students, with only 380 undergraduate degrees out of 1,186 being awarded to female students, amounting to less than 33 per cent.

Disparities are especially apparent in doctoral engineering and physical science degrees, where only 26 per cent of the 156 degrees awarded were to female students.

Among the 1,115 undergraduate mathematics and physical science degrees awarded in 2016, 39 per cent were to female students. These same disparities appear for doctoral degrees as well, with only 24 per cent of the 105 doctoral degree recipients and 31 per cent of the 118 master’s degrees being awarded to female students.

Education and physical education degree recipients also showed gender disparities, where female students are overwhelmingly represented. Across 1,287 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees awarded, three-quarters were female, with the largest disparity among the 759 masters students, where only 21 per cent were male.

International student enrolment

International students who attend U of T are overwhelmingly from China.

With 65.1 per cent of the undergraduate international student enrolment, the 10,463 Chinese international students made up 14.6 per cent of U of T’s total undergraduate population in 2017.

The second-highest international population was from India, with a comparatively few 677 students enrolled. Students from South Korea, the United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Nigeria made up the remaining international undergraduate student population with roughly 12.8 per cent share of total international undergraduate enrolment.

Trends remain similar for graduate international enrolment. Students from China made up 34.7 per cent of the graduate international student population — with students from the United States and India having made up 11.4 and 11.2 per cent of international graduate students, respectively.

By geographic region, undergraduate international enrolment has fluctuated. Enrolment from North America has increased from 281 to 449 students since 2013, while international students coming from the Caribbean and Latin America are on a rapid decline, with 2017 seeing about half of the 2014 enrolment. However, European international student enrolment maintained high levels, at around 800 students per year.

The Asia and Pacific region’s enrolment has seen a 68.9 per cent increase since 2013, more than any other regional division of international enrolment for undergraduate students.

Again, these trends are mirrored in the graduate student population. Of the 3,118 international graduate students in 2017, more than half were from Asia and the Pacific, with North America and the Middle East making up the next largest populations.


In the 2016–2017 school year, U of T received $274,854,977 in pledges and gifts, with 37 per cent of donations coming from alumni. Research grants also made up a large proportion of donations at $62,535,116. The university also received money from various corporations, foundations, and “friends.”

The largest donors are listed online. Donors who have gifted $25,000,000 or more include Paul and Alessandra Dalla Lana, Sandra and Joseph Rotman, John H. and Myrna Daniels, and Peter and Melanie Munk.

If an individual donates $1,827 or more, they can join the Presidents’ Circle club. The club holds special lectures and events presented by “the University’s most celebrated, insightful and inspiring professors.”

Donations are also accepted online, where various funds can be selected to specify where the donor would like their money to go. This includes funds specific to programs, institutions, campuses, and colleges. There is also a President’s Fund for Excellence, listed as part of the Boundless campaign’s “area of greatest need.”

Student Residences

New College had the most students in residence in 2017, holding 900 students with a 901 capacity.

Of the 6,616 residence spaces for students at U of T, 4,017 were occupied by first-year students. University College held the highest number of first-year students relative to its capacity. Besides graduate and family housing, Trinity College held the lowest number of first-year students among the 460 spaces available.

All residences at UTSG were operating at 95 per cent capacity or above in 2017. Chestnut Residence, University College, and Victoria College were all operating at 100 per cent capacity last year.

UTM’s undergraduate housing had a 1,462 student capacity with 642 first-year students. Residences at UTSC housed 754 students of its 767 spaces available, with 613 first-year students in residence.

Wireless connectivity

The university also collects data on the number of connections to U of T’s wireless network across all three campuses. Similar data also shows how students use university-provided web services such as ACORN, including the number of students changing or choosing academic courses, how many students have added bank information, and the number of credit card fee payments that declined.

The average number of connections to U of T’s Wi-Fi per day has doubled since 2013. In 2017, 59,636 unique users accessed U of T’s network per day, with an average of 95,578 devices connecting.

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

U of T welcomed 19,187 international students last year

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

Amid a rising international student population, student unions and the seven colleges are expanding their representation on campus and creating services catered to those demographics. The Varsity reached out to several student unions and college governments for a roundup of international student representation on campus.


The University of Toronto Students’ Union does not have a specific committee geared toward international students. However, it does have positions which serve the international student population, such as Vice-President Student Life and Vice-President Equity.


The International Students’ Caucus (ISC) at the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (UTGSU) aims to address the interests and concerns regarding international graduate students.

The caucus hosts social, academic, and professional workshops and meetings concerning governance and policy changes within the university community and the city at large.

“The ISC is a group under the UTGSU [that] mainly serves international students’ interests, including academic success, social interaction, and networking,” reads a statement on its website.

“Meetings will be held monthly and will focus on the needs of the caucus’ members and the needs of all international graduate students including social interaction, networking, and potential changes in programming and/or governance at the university, city, and/or provincial levels.”

The ISC’s elected positions include the chair, who oversees the caucus as a whole, and the UTGSU Executive Liaison.


The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) represents over 13,500 students across the UTM, with 20 per cent of students being international. While the UTMSU does not have a specific position or caucus dedicated to international students, they do provide several services.

“We endeavour to ensure that the rights of all students are respected, provide cost-saving services, programs and events, and represent the voices of part-time undergraduate students across the University and to all levels of government,” reads a statement on their website. “We are fundamentally committed to the principle of access to education for all.”

The UTMSU also has several campaigns in partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) regarding international student issues, including Fight for Fees, Fairness for International Students, and OHIP for International Students.


The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) currently does not have a specific levy or caucus dedicated to international students; however, it has positions aimed toward serving the needs of domestic and international students alike on campus, such as Vice-President Campus Life and Vice-President Equity.

SCSU also provides specific services in partnership with the CFS for international students including the International Student Identity Card, which provides students with exclusive discounts such as airfare and entertainment.

Innis College

The Innis College student body provides a number of resources and services made available to international students. The Innis Residence Council has six positions for Junior International House Representatives who work alongside Senior House Representatives to coordinate events and foster a sense of involvement. An International Transition Advisor is also available on campus.

New College

New College houses the International Foundation Program, which provides conditional acceptance to international students whose English proficiency scores do not meet direct entrance requirements. The program guarantees admission to the Faculty of Arts & Science or the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering upon completion.

Madison Hönig, New College Student Council President, told The Varsity, “At New College, international students make up an important part of our student population. We are lucky to house the International Foundation Program (IFP) at New College. As such, we do have an International Foundation Program Representative to advocate for these students.”

“Additionally, we work closely with the New College Residence Council and the main governance structures within the College to ensure that international students are being advocated for and included in our programming, academic initiatives and support at New College,” continued Hönig. “We are working to see that international student representation and advocacy is considered within the portfolios of all of our members.”

University College

University College’s International Student Advisor aims to provide academic and personal resources to International students through their sUCcess Centre. Appointments can be made to meet with an advisor.

Victoria College

Victoria College International Students Association (VISA) is a levy funded by the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council that aims to support the needs and interests of international students at Victoria College.

VISA is used to host social, academic, and professional events throughout the year and also funds a mentorship program for incoming students.

“Our program offered help to students from all backgrounds, in which the mentor would be providing both academic and moral support to the students transitioning into the new university environment, through a two-hour session every two weeks,” reads a statement from the mentorship program’s website.

Woodsworth College

The International Students Director under the Woodsworth College Student Association (WCSA) is the representative for international students at Woodsworth College. The International Students Director also coordinates events hosted by the association catered to international students.

“With this role, I hope to connect with not only incoming international students but also upper year students to bridge the gap between them. I look forward to continuing with some of the events introduced by last year’s director as well as introducing a few new ones,” reads a statement on its website from from Leslie Mutoni, WCSA’s International Students Director.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, the university welcomed over 19,187 international students from across 163 countries and regions, mainly from China, India, the United States, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students and student societies at St. Michael’s College and Trinity College did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Op-ed: Enhancing internationalization at the University of Toronto

Keeping politics aside, U of T must globalize in spirit, practice, and implementation

Op-ed: Enhancing internationalization at the University of Toronto

The University of Toronto proudly promotes the notion that it is a diverse, multicultural, and innovative research-oriented institution. The institution has grown to be a symbolic manifestation of the values of openness, progressive thought, and inclusivity imbued in the very idea of Canada as a country.

To a large extent, this is true. Our university has one of the largest student bodies in Canada, with approximately 25 per cent registered as international students. Furthermore, the wide-ranging cultural and disciplinary backgrounds of academics and staff at U of T have allowed others to regard the institution as one promoting global thought leaders.

Yet it is imperative that all stakeholders at the university pay further attention to engaging with international students through more comprehensive platforms. International student fees remain uncapped and unregulated, which has resulted in the university having one of the highest nominal undergraduate fees in the country. Moreover, problems adjusting to language, religious customs, social engagements, and other socio-economic differences, in addition to a worryingly growing unease around mental health concerns such as homesickness, depression, and anxiety, have manifested in a lack of interest among international students in the university’s governance and student politics.

This is not to say that international students remain completely uninvolved in student life. In fact, U of T has one of the largest networks of globally themed student organizations in the world, which remains a testament to the desire for students from around the world or with an interest in global affairs, cross-cultural learning, and diversity to be active members of the student community. However, we as a university need to question what is holding these organizations or individuals back from partaking in student governance. Perhaps it is the volatile nature of student politics at our university. Perhaps it is the personalization of political choices by our student leaders. We leave that up to our constituents to decide.

With respect to student politics — and particularly with respect to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), which I am a part of — international student issues have formed a key portion of our aim to be effective representatives of our constituents. Yet, for various reasons over the course of our history, we have fallen short with regard to putting international student issues front and centre. It is a collective failure for which there is little excuse. But we recognize that this issue exists, and we want to change it.

One of the platforms that the UTSU is developing is called the Global Dialogue Series (GDS). Engaging student organizations, academics, and other stakeholders in town hall-style, discussion-based events, the UTSU organized its first GDS through a series of four events during the fall semester, with a focus on immigration, migrant rights, and minority rights in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Syria, South Sudan, and Canada. The collaborators were comprised of student clubs like the Bangladeshi Students’ Association, academics from the Munk School of Global Affairs, and even a filmmaker working with Rohingya children based in Canada. It seemed to me like a good starting point to push student-centred global issues to the forefront of the UTSU’s relationship with its constituents.

Keeping up with this philosophy, the UTSU is planning to continue its GDS series, with a primary focus in student activism and education in countries ranging from Turkey to the United States. While the planning of the event series is still in its preliminary process, with the active engagement of on-campus student clubs and external stakeholders, we hope to make this event — and, from a long-term perspective, the GDS in general — a permanent platform for student politicians to carry forward, irrespective of political differences.

I invite all interested parties to partake in this endeavour. Conversations spur conversations, which ultimately lead to a better informed student body — better informed about foreign cultures and varying ideologies and lifestyles. Maybe one day, we at the university will be able to say that rather than international students adjusting to the Toronto culture, we all should collectively adapt to and celebrate diversity. If we can do that, we will truly be able to call ourselves a comprehensively diverse institution, not just in terms of numbers, but in the way we talk about and represent ourselves.

For far too long, student politicians and activists at this university have engaged in hostile politics, sometimes just for the sake of doing so. Differences in ideologies will remain, but they do not give us the right to ignore core issues for students, including Islamophobia, mental health concerns, homophobia, and academic difficulties.

My demand as an international student is that we come together to project genuine internationalism, from engaging with platforms such as the GDS to participating in activities hosted by bodies like the Centre for International Experience. Let us put aside partisan disparities across political slates, socio-cultural organizations, and academic disciplines and unite in the spirit of putting issues affecting international students front and centre.


Mir Aftabuddin Ahmed is a fourth-year student at University College studying Economics and International Relations. He is the Associate Vice President-University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.