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January marks the beginning of a new semester filled with new classes. While course enrolment for both fall and winter terms occurred in the summer, students have until the end of the drop-and-add period on Jan. 15 to enrol in courses for the current term. Or, at least, they can attempt to.

McMaster University students enrol in courses through Mosaic, the university’s administrative information system. For fall and winter course enrolment, students may only enrol in courses after their enrolment appointment opens, which is dependent on their academic level. For example, during registration for the 2018-2019 academic term, students in level five had enrolment appointments beginning June 19 whereas students in level one had appointments beginning June 27.

Each student is randomly assigned an enrolment appointment within their academic level which allows the process of course enrolment to be fair while giving necessary priority to upper-year students who have limited time to fulfil their degree requirements.

While the current system provides students equal opportunity to enrol in courses, due to the nature of course enrolment, it is often the case that students wish to enrol in classes that have reached capacity. This could be to fulfil requirements for post-undergraduate programs, satisfy their minor requirements, allow for the option to take advanced classes in the future, or merely out of interest.

Just as there are many reasons why students wish to enrol in full classes, there are many reasons why classes have caps on enrolment — limitations in room sizes and the necessity of reserved space for certain program majors, for example — but what makes little sense is the university’s lack of offering a waitlist for full classes.

As it stands, any students wishing to enrol in full classes is recommended to “keep checking back on Mosaic to see if a seat has opened up”. This recommendation is frankly a waste of students’ time with little reward; students have no guarantee that consistently checking their enrolment cart will result in enrolment in their desired course, even if spaces became available.

The alternative is to contact the instructor of the course and ask for special permissions to join however this again cannot guarantee student enrolment and success varies dependent on the course and instructor. Instructors also cannot be expected to respond to all student requests and essentially manage the administrative details of their course. Instead, waitlists should be created and used to facilitate course enrolment.

Other universities such as Carleton University have clearly-defined policies surrounding course registration waitlists. While not all courses at Carleton have waitlists set-up, those that do operate in a consistent manner.

Once the course has reached capacity, students who have met the course prerequisites and are attempting to enrol are presented with the option to join a waitlist, with those who attempted to enrol in the full course the earliest placed at the top of the list. When space is available, the first student on the waitlist is notified via email and must register for the class within 24 hours. Otherwise, the next student on the waitlist is contacted and so forth.   

Although a system like this does not guarantee enrolment, it removes the unnecessary time commitment created by constantly checking Mosaic for available spaces, and ensures the process is fair by not requiring instructor intervention.

Oddly enough, Mosaic appears to have the functionality to support waitlists, showing students on their term’s schedule that their status in a course can be “enrolled”, “dropped”, or “wait listed”. Given then that implementation of waitlists benefits students and does not seemingly require a major system restructure, the question becomes why hasn’t the university offered it?

 

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Illustration by Sukaina Imam

This fall, more than 1,500 new international students set foot on McMaster University’s campus. In the coming years, the university plans to further increase international student enrolment. As more international students are accepted to McMaster, student and university-led groups are working to identify and address key issues that they face.

McMaster’s 2017-2020 Strategic Mandate identifies international enrolment as a strategic priority. In 2017-2018, there were 2,589 international students studying at McMaster, a 25 per cent increase from the year prior.

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The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development does not limit the number of international students that a post-secondary institution can admit. The ministry estimates that by 2020, international students will make up 20 per cent of all post-secondary enrolments in Ontario.

International students choose to study in Canada for a wide variety of reasons, including the high quality of the Canadian education, the perception of Canada as a tolerant and non-discriminatory country and Canada’s reputation as a safe country.

However, many international students face significant barriers upon arrival, which can lead to problems with mental health, housing, finances and work.

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Tuition

One of the most commonly cited issues for international students across the province is tuition. According to the Ontario Undergraduate Student Association’s 2015 Ontario Post Secondary Student Survey, 49 per cent of international students stated that they had difficulty meeting their annual tuition payments.

At McMaster, a first-year domestic computer science student would pay $8,886 in the 2018-2019 academic year. However, an international student registered in the same program could pay between $25, 514 and $31, 658 per year, depending on their year of enrolment.

Universities across the province rely on international students’ high tuition to offset their operating costs. According to a 2016 Global Affairs Canada study, international students account for 11 per cent of the Ontario undergraduate population but generate 28 per cent of total tuition revenue.

The 2018-2019 McMaster Consolidated budget states, “to increase undergraduate enrolment and ensure our budget remains balanced, we need to shift our efforts to recruit additional international students, up from the current 10 per cent of undergraduate enrolment.”

This is possible because international student tuition rates are unregulated, meaning that there is no limit on how much they can increase year to year. As a result, international students face the burden of sharp, and often unpredictable, increases in tuition rates.

In addition to being an issue on its own, high tuition can also cause other problems for international students. Paula Daidone, a McMaster alumna, remarked that high tuition can put international students in vulnerable housing situations, as they are more likely to be willing to sacrifice quality in exchange for low rent.

Additionally, international students may have limited English skills, and might be searching for accommodations while living outside of Canada. Overall, these factors mean that international students are more likely than domestic students to face predatory landlords or end up in unsafe living situations.

Anant Jain, a second-year computer science student from India, also noted that high tuition means that international students often face a great deal pressure to succeed in school. International students may also face increased mental health issues due to the pressure to meet high tuition payments, problems with housing and academic stress.

 

Campus Life

International students can find it difficult to participate in campus life, due in large part to prejudice and racism from other students, cultural differences and language barriers.

Jain noted that some international students are nervous about initiating conversations.

“When they don’t talk to people, when they don’t interact with people, they obviously have a close community feeling, they feel like people are not accepting them,” Jain stated.

However, not all international students have trouble integrating to campus life. Jain’s outgoing nature and desire to participate in campus events helped him was integrate easily into the McMaster community.

“I think, if you really want to talk to people, people will talk to you anytime,” he said. “And people are really welcoming here.”

Jain also benefitted from mentorship programs and social events offered through International Student Services. Last year, McMaster Student Affairs conducted focus groups to help identify the needs of the university’s growing international student population. Outcomes from this included a pre-orientation program for international students called Ignite, as well as investment in iCent, an app to provide new international students with information about their move to McMaster.

Other plans for this year include the recruitment of a Student Success Coach and an Immigration consultant. According to Gina Robinson, director of the Student Success Centre and assistant dean, these changes will come in addition to existing programs relating to “life on campus, building connections, getting to know our Hamilton community, and celebrating culture and educating students on life in Canada.”

Additionally, the McMaster International and Exchange Club is a student run-initiative that connects incoming and outgoing international and exchange students. For Tom Johnston, an exchange student from Australia, MIX was a good way to get involved, meet people, and become a part of student life.

 

Mental Health

While these programs are helpful to some, other international students experience additional barriers that can prevent them from accessing the support available. Daidone, a McMaster alum from Brazil, emphasizes that mental health issues can make it difficult to get involved and seek out support.

Daidone points out that international students lose their support systems when they come to Canada.

“People come here from another country, by themselves. […], at home, you have more support, or family support, and more actual resources,” she said.

The 2017 OUSA Policy Recommendations notes that the rise of mental health issues is of particular concern for international students due to issues with integration and adjustment.

Additionally, while international students are automatically enrolled into the University Health Insurance Plan, they cannot enroll into the Ontario Health Plan. While OHIP covers psychiatric care, UHIP does not, meaning that international students have to pay out of pocket in order to access coverage.

The OUSA Policy Recommendations emphasize the importance of providing “high-quality mental health supports that are culturally appropriate and sensitive to the needs of international students”. Currently, the Student Wellness Centre does not offer mental health support specifically catered to international students.

The experiences of international students can vary drastically. Coming to McMaster can be an exciting way to meet new people, gain new experiences and seek new opportunities. However, many international students still face problems due to immigration policy, tuition deregulation, social prejudice and language limitations.

In the years to come, it remains to be seen how provincial government policy, university administrative decisions, and support services will work together to influence the experiences of the steadily growing international student population.

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McMaster’s student population has taken off since 2000, and last year, the university hit its operating peak.

An unexpected surplus of students chose McMaster last summer – about 400 students above target – which meant that the university couldn’t accommodate every student who wanted and was eligible to live in residence. First years were offered $1000 to live off campus, plus priority placement in their second year.

Though last year’s large freshman cohort was a provincial blip, with a record-setting 90,000 first years entering universities across Ontario, rising enrolment numbers are a growing concern.

A campus capacity study based on data from 2008-2009 concluded that McMaster needed approximately 12 per cent more space than it had in order to support student enrolment.

As of 2009, residential facilities have the largest percentage of space on campus at 20.5 per cent, followed by academic departmental offices and research labs for faculty and graduate students. Classroom and library facilities comprise about 8.5 per cent each, and common-use student activity space covers 1.5 per cent.

Dean of Students and Associate Vice-President (Student Affairs) Phil Wood, who was on the study’s steering committee, said there is an ongoing effort to optimize the use of classroom facilities and to improve amenities such as wireless Internet access.

As McMaster’s student population grows, so does the need for more study space on campus.

In 2009, Thode Library’s third floor was renovated and became home to the iSci Program, and the following year, the fourth floor of Mills Library became the Lyons New Media Centre. While the renovations were good news to certain programs, they meant the loss of study space for the general student population.

In response to growing demand, the University administration and McMaster Students Union (MSU) have worked to secure more permanent study space and 24-hour access to Thode Library during exam time.

Current MSU president Siobhan Stewart has proposed an agreement to keep Bridges Café open longer during exam periods, beginning this December.

Vivian Lewis, Acting University Librarian, said the number of seats in libraries has increased dramatically from about 1,900 in 2004 to just over 2,900 in 2009. This past January, the entire book section on the second floor of Thode Library was moved to the basement, making way for 390 individual carrels in a new quiet study area.

“We’ve been investing a lot of time and intellectual labour into creating more seats for students,” said Lewis. “At the same time, we have to consider the quality of the work environment and the valuable collections we have in our libraries.”

Huzaifa Saeed, VP (Education) of the MSU, said that apart from overcrowding on campus, the MSU is concerned about higher student-to-faculty ratios and a decrease in the flexibility of course options for students.

“Rising enrolment is only one piece of the puzzle,” he added. “We are currently researching best practices across the higher education sector to improve quality of education for large class sizes.”

Although official numbers won’t be released until November, first-year confirmation numbers from the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre suggest that incoming class will be smaller than last year’s. This time around, the residence space issue is not so dire.

Even so, the number of students enrolling in Ontario universities has been steadily climbing (from 275,000 in 2000 to 434,000 in 2012). A recent report from the Council of Ontario Universities says that province-wide enrolment is up 2.5 per cent from last year. The challenges that come with this are ever present.

Projects that would increase McMaster’s campus capacity include the new $65-million Wilson Building dedicated to liberal arts studies, on which construction will begin next year, as well as a downtown health campus that will be a facility for teaching, research and healthcare delivery.

The Wilson Building will be used by more than half of McMaster’s student population, and the new health campus, to open in 2014, is expected to serve 4,000 students.

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