Work terms, international students and MUN’s moral issue

Published on July 22, 2014

CBC TV’s “Here and Now” aired two items about the difficulties facing international students attending Memorial University and the Marine Institute. The first item, aired on July 3, discussed the findings of a study by professors Dave Philpott and Karen Kennedy while the second item, aired on July 4, was a reaction to this report by Sean Kennedy of MUNSA. I would like to continue the conversation.

First of all I would like to congratulate Dave and Karen for their efforts to document the difficulties experienced by international students studying at MUN. I hope their recommendations will be applied by the University Administration to provide the best possible educational experience for international students studying at MUN.

However, I found the following major omissions in their report:

1. The report mentions some 150 individual consultations, but not a single consultation with either an engineering or a business co-ordinator, the people who manage these co-op programs. Given that 43.6 per cent of international undergraduate students are enrolled in engineering and business co-op programs and that co-ordinators have more frequent contact with international students than practically any other campus official; I find this omission to be unbelievable! If the authors had bothered to consult the engineering co-ordinators, they would have learned that the sustainability of the engineering program is already at risk, due to shortage of work term jobs. The present plan is to increase enrolment by an additional 500 undergraduate students by 2020. This will further exacerbate problems of availability of work-term jobs to the detriment of international students.

In this regard I am deeply skeptical about the approach taken by MUN to justify the expansion in enrolment and believe they have overestimated the future demand for B.Eng. graduates in the job market.

2. The report claims that tuition fees at MUN are among the lowest in Canada for international students, but fails to mention that international undergraduates pay three times the fees that locals pay, including residence fees that are marked up by the same factor.

As it stands now many international co-op engineering students are being be short-changed by the unavailability of co-op jobs and are unlikely to obtain the six work terms recommended by the university and may even have difficulty obtaining the minimum four required for graduation.

Paying three times for half value is for me a moral issue that will reflect badly on MUN, Newfoundlanders and Canadians alike unless rectified.

3. Philpott and Kennedy also lament the lack of social integration of international students in the larger community; but fail to note that work-term jobs which put international students into workplaces alongside ordinary Newfoundlanders would go a long way in mitigating this problem.

4. Another idea that I would like to suggest would be to encourage international students to participate in campus sport, social and professional clubs and community clubs and activities such as the East Coast Trail hikes and cultural organizations.

Attendance of international students at public events such as “Talking about Engineering,” CSCE and CGS lectures is surprisingly poor.

As one of the pioneer engineering co-ordinators (1970-77) I am concerned about the of the future of the co-op engineering (work/study) program that was vital in establishing MUN as one of Canada’s foremost engineering schools. Already the requirements of the program have been diluted and currently only four work terms are required for graduation down from six just a few years ago. I have been told that MUN will support the co-op program going forward and hope this will be the case.

Philpott and Kennedy have put forward many good suggestions and they also note that 40 per cent of the differential between local and international fees will be available to the faculty of engineering so there will be no excuse for not implementing these recommendations and any others that may come forward.

P.C. Helwig,

P.Eng, engineering consultant

St. John’s