Despite equal opportunities for both domestic and international students in the scholarship and bursary application process, the University of Saskatchewan has found that a disproportionate number of international students do not apply for available awards.
On Feb. 12, the International Student Association held an information session to address the imbalance of applications. The event gave students a chance to learn strategies for applying effectively from award recipients. The logistics of the application process for continuing students were also discussed by panelists, as well as the various funding opportunities available from scholarships to travel awards.
Ibrahim Mohamed, a third-year finance student and ISA vice-president of student life, explains that the purpose of the event was to correct the misconceptions or confusion that some international students have in regard to student awards.
“[The ISA] thought of this event, because we knew there was a problem. We had all these people coming to us and [telling] us, ‘We don’t know anything about awards’ or ‘Everything is just for domestic students,’” Mohamed said. “We thought, ‘How about we form a whole event that’s targeted towards these students to show them what opportunities they have?’”
Paying for tuition can be a problem for international students, because the rates are 2.6 per cent higher than they would be for a domestic student. This, coupled with the fact that only 6.5 per cent of award applicants are international, prompted the ISA to give students a space to get information and dispel their doubts.
Shiney Choudhary, a fourth-year psychology student, was one of the panelists asked to speak at the event and discuss her success with applying for awards. She explains that having an event that provided information specific to international students was beneficial, because it gave students more applicable advice from an international student who had already experienced the process.
“It’s good to know what your options are,” Choudhary said. “It’s nice to actually talk to someone that’s been through the process, to ask them what it’s really like instead of just reading about it online.”
Some international students turn away from applications because of an impression that awards are not for them. However, Alex Beldan, the awards administrator from the student finance and awards department at the U of S, explains that awards opportunities for domestic and international students are fairly equal.
“There are more awards that are only for international students than there are that exclude international students explicitly,” Beldan said.
Although international undergraduate students constituted about 12 per cent of the student body in the 2016-17 academic year, only a small percentage of those students apply for awards. Beldan hoped to understand this issue better after the event.
“In university-wide scholarships, … 6.5 per cent of applicants are international students, but the international student body is, I think, somewhere around 15 or 16 per cent. It’s fewer than one would hope,” Beldan said. “I don’t know [why], and I wish I did, because that would help me address the issue.”
Choudhary explains that international students face difficulties because they are often new to the university and have not had the opportunity or ease to create working relationships with staff or faculty for recommendations and references.
“If you are a brand new student, you might not know how to talk to your professors or have any work experience, so you can’t get recommendation letters, which might be a barrier,” Choudhary said.
Whether misinformation or a lack of practical help is behind the disproportionately small percentage of international students applying for student awards, the answer is unclear. Mohamed explains that the ISA will continue to host the panels on scholarships and awards in hopes that more international students will take advantage of these opportunities.
“This will be a consistent event, every year,” Mohamed said. “Hopefully, the more and more it grows, we’ll be able to reach more and more students.”
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor