New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 10:26

Bramptonians Sucking on a Lollipop

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

A few weeks before Brampton Council begin debate on the latest budget, the city and province delivered a big lollipop to the citizens of Brampton in the form of a University to be built in our city.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but suspect this little bit of theatre is meant to divert the attention of Bramptonians away from the poor economic performance of our city, the recent tax increases, stagnant municipal services, and the provinces’ ruinously expensive and incompetently handled hydro mismanagement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I, like many, believe a university campus is something Brampton needs, and needs badly. In fact, I know many parents are excited at the thought of their children obtaining a quality post-secondary education in their own city.

Downloading to taxpayers

But for anyone who listened to what was said at the Brampton press event, while Brampton has been chosen as the site of one of two new university campuses, there was no specific timeline or details about where or when this facility will be built, how it will be funded, or how much of the cost the province will download onto the backs of Brampton taxpayers in order to make the announcement a reality.  

What we do know is that there is a $90 million allotment for each of the two municipalities approved in this round of funding. Let’s remember that when then Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote his infamous letter to the Brampton citizens promising that Peel Memorial Hospital would not be closed – just before he closed it − the replacement facility’s phase I costs were over $300 million and Bramptonians were practically extorted into paying $60 million towards the project.  

If you think this is an isolated occurrence, think again.  When the province promised to finish highway 410 north to highway 10, it was only accomplished after the Region of Peel was forced to pony up over $40 million to the province.  

Citizens in the dark

Will $90 million build a university campus?  I highly doubt it.  I am convinced we are going to be put in the position of shelling out millions more from municipal coffers – your tax money – to provide land and capital funding in order to make this happen. How sweet does that lollipop taste now?

Let’s face it, we have no idea what we are getting out of this latest deal.  We know from the past the province promised to keep our original hospital open, then closed it, then tore it down.  The slogan for the new Peel Memorial was “More than a Hospital,” but in fact this too was a lie.  The new Peel Memorial will be much less than a hospital.  It will house outpatient services, clinics, dialysis, and will not have an emergency department.  Instead, it will have an urgent care centre that closes down at night, and while some services now housed at Brampton Civic are moving to the new building, Brampton is getting much less than it deserves in terms of health care services.  This does not bode well for our university.

Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon says this council worked hard work to make this university happen and Mayor Linda Jeffery maintains this is exciting news for Bramptonians. This from a council that turned down $300 million in funding for a light rail line up Main Street that over 70 per cent of the citizens wanted.  

I think the citizens of Brampton have some fundamental issues with trusting this council and these concerns are well justified.   

So, I think we can all look forward to a future that will see more tax levies for health care, our university, and whatever other lollipop the city or province thinks up to throw at Brampton, in an attempt to win our votes with our own money. That makes us all a bunch of suckers.  

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Education

 Posters ‘in no way reflect the inclusive, diverse and caring culture of this university,’ says President Cannon     EARLY Tuesday morning, about 40 anti-Muslim posters were found and removed by Campus Security on the University of Calgary’s main campus.

“The University of Calgary is committed to creating a safe and respectful campus for all […]


Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

UNIVERSITY of Alberta student Annika Roren—Scottish and Norwegian in ancestry—was eager to have her long blonde hair bundled into a green turban Tuesday, and learn about the Sikh culture.

Dismayed like the rest of the community about racist posters discovered on campus last week sporting the image of a man in a turban, Roren made a point of attending the “tie-in” event on campus today.-- 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Top Stories

Commentary by Peter Halpin in Halifax

Atlantic Canada could become a field of dreams for entrepreneurs, immigrants and international students.

And, if we give talented newcomers an incentive to move to the region and stay here, they will help build its economy.

Those themes were heard loud and clear at the June 24 Atlantic Leaders’ Summit on Talent Retention and Entrepreneurism, an event sponsored by the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) that attracted 75 business, community, government, student and academic leaders from across the region.

Federal Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, M.P. (Kings-Hants), set the tone in a keynote address that opened the Summit. Minister Brison said entrepreneurial immigrants boost the economy and help address the region’s “terrifying” demographic challenge — too few workers supporting too many retired people.

The starting-over advantage

“Starting over (as immigrants do) is inherently an entrepreneurial experience. Immigrants see opportunities that others don’t.”

The Minister said the growth of the wine industry in Nova Scotia underscores this point. The leading pioneers in Nova Scotia’s wine industry – Hans Jost (founder of Jost Vineyards) and Hanspeter Stutz (founder of Domaine de Grand Pré) - both migrated to Nova Scotia from Europe. Pete Luckett, an immigrant from the United Kingdom and founder of Luckett Vineyards, is also a leader in the sector.

Due in part to the leadership of this trio, the wine business has grown from a fledgling industry into a major success story over the past two decades. Today, Nova Scotia boasts 22 wineries, 70 grape growers who cultivate more than 800 acres of vineyards, seven distinct grape growing districts, and its own white wine appellation, Tidal Bay. 

Despite the benefits that immigrants like Messrs. Luckett, Jost and Stutz have brought to the region, Brison said there is “little upside” to supporting immigration as a politician.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Too often, voters see immigration as a “zero sum game” – one in which newcomers take jobs from long-time residents.

Role for universities

He said universities have an important role to play as “thought leaders” in leading a “culture shift” towards “accepting and welcoming new Canadians.”

The AAU has largely succeeded at persuading stakeholders that universities are the best source of new immigrants to Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s challenge “to lead the culture shift” among Atlantic Canada’s communities and citizens towards greater acceptance of new Canadians is the natural next step for the region’s universities in their support of regional population growth strategies.

Indeed, the AAU’s 2016 Graduate Retention Study showed 75 per cent of international graduates would remain in their province (of study) after graduation if given a choice.

Not that Brison is a pessimist. He says the region’s positive response to the recent influx of Syrian refugees may be a “game-changer.” He also says Atlantic universities are leveraging federal research grants to boost immigration to the region and build “a more innovative Canada.”

For instance, the Tesla lithium battery lab project led by Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University has assembled a team of 22 researchers, 12 of whom came from other nations.

“These investments in … research are incredibly important to bringing immigrants to Canada.” They “are part of an overall integrated” strategy in which universities play a key role. “Creating a world-class research environment … is critically important to our region.”

The Trudeau government would like to attract more global talent to universities in Atlantic Canada, and keep them here once they graduate.

Ditch "Come from Away"

“Can we take a Team Atlantic Canada approach to attracting foreign students?” The Minister suggested a pan-university mission to China is one idea worth considering.  The current contingent of the nearly 13,000 international students at AAU universities already represents a significant industry.

Less than two weeks after the Summit, Brison was also part of the team of federal cabinet ministers and Atlantic premiers who announced a three-year pilot project under which immigration to the region would increase significantly.  

At that meeting, Minister Brison was blunt in his assessment of current attitudes toward newcomers to the region:  “I have been told repeatedly by people who have moved to Atlantic Canada – that it takes a while to fit in. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Minister Brison quite rightly encourages Atlantic Canadians to ditch the “come-from-away” label often affixed to newcomers to the region.  He went further by saying that, “it’s in our collective interest, economically and socially, to not use terms that reflect a negative view of people who choose to make Atlantic Canada their home. We’ve got to do more to welcome people here”.

Building on the success of attracting more and more international students to our campuses; warmly welcoming them to communities across the region; helping place them in co-op education and internships during their studies; introducing them to alumni networks and employers and encouraging them to stay are just a few of the things our universities are doing to help lead the required “culture shift” across Atlantic Canada.

Minister Brison’s call to action to our universities to help lead the creation of a more welcoming environment to newcomers has not gone unheeded.

Peter Halpin is executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU). This comment is the second in our series on immigration to the Atlantic region.

Published in Education

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

When you think of integrating refugees into a society, providing them with access to higher education is often considered less of a priority than food, shelter and medical care.

Some experts believe, though, that it’s especially important both for the economy of the host country and for the long-term recovery of war-torn communities and states.

Over the past many years, the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have displaced a large number of refugees aged 18 to 25 years old. These conflicts have resulted in crackdowns on universities in Egypt, closures of campuses in Yemen and Libya and bombings in Syria and Gaza, all of which have aggravated the plight of the educated youth.  

According to Hans de Wit, professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, higher education for these refugees should not be considered a challenge, but an opportunity.

De Wit explains, “Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees rather than putting them into camps, where they cannot learn, work or do anything.” 

He continues, “The alternative is to use their pre-educational skills and educate them further."

“[With] education, you give them perspective. The trauma is worst when you don’t give them any hope,” he adds. “Many of them have lived in camps for years and the end result is that they cannot go back.”

Refugees as an investment

De Wit’s report, "The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Higher Education," suggests that politically-displaced victims, unlike economically-displaced refugees, are better educated and potentially easier to integrate in the labour market in receiving countries. 

This label applies to the current refugees escaping Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan, many of whom have been forced out of their countries due to violent conflict.

The report, coauthored by research professor and founding director of the Center, Philip Altbach, further suggests that while these refugees are often seen as victims and an economic burden, they offer new talent to the host country in the long run.

“Many media reports feature articulate, English-speaking young professionals from the Middle East expressing their hopes to continue their education or obtain skilled jobs and contribute to European economies,” it states. 

“Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees."

The researchers argue that this is not merely advantageous for the refugees, but for the profile of the university they attend as well. It is a way to internationalize the campus, making it more competitive as a higher education institution.

Nadia Abu-Zahra from the University of Ottawa, says that be they students, researchers or professors, Syrian refugees are often top quality academics, and calls them an “intellectual wealth." 

“Refugees either landing in Norway, Denmark or Canada — whoever gets the highest number of these academics will have an incredible increase in their intellectual wealth” she says.

She insists, “If you are wise you will incur them. Those [academics] fled their home countries, will stay connected to international trends and will not only give back to the host country, but to the world.” 

Importance of the "lost generation"

In another report on Syrian students and scholars living in Lebanon, Keith David Watenpaugh describes them as the “lost generation” of college-age students.  

"The War Follows Them" states that there are up to 70,000 displaced university-age Syrian students in Lebanon. It estimates that only 10,000 of them are enrolled in Lebanese universities. Another 60,000 college-age Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and 70,000 are in Turkey. 

Watenpaugh describes them as the  “lost generation” of college-age students.

Watenpaugh highlights the need for international policy changes regarding higher education and its role in the rebuilding of war-zones. 

He states that “the war will end, but the young people who would be integral in rebuilding the country are being left behind.”

Watenpaugh stresses the need for increased research and aid for these populations to help post-conflict countries rebuild successfully.

“The focus on elementary education is important, but we must ask who the Syrian teachers in the future will be if we neglect the university students now,” says a UNESCO education specialist in the report. 

Rebuilding for the future

In their report, "The Importance of Higher Education for Syrian Refugees," Sansom Milton and Sultan Barakat speak about the challenges of restoration and the importance of higher education for refugees: “The severe toll that regional conflicts have taken on higher education is further compounded by a failure to appreciate the strategic role of the sector in stabilizing and promoting the recovery of war-torn communities and states.”

Their paper further emphasizes the abilities of the younger generation and says, “Higher education, properly supported, is able to act as a catalyst for the recovery of war-torn countries in the Arab world, not only by supplying the skills and knowledge needed to reconstruct shattered economic and physical infrastructure, but also by supporting the restoration of collapsed governance systems and fostering social cohesion.”

Milton and Barakat are advocating for international policy changes regarding higher education.

These changes would involve greater protection of academic institutions in times of war, augmented university networks to promote academic solidarity and more funding to rebuild higher education in the aftermath of conflict. 

This question will be debated by education leaders at the British Council’s Going Global 2016 conference in Cape Town in May.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Education

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) will double the number of refugee students it will sponsor in the coming academic year, which is good news for Syrian refugees seeking post-secondary education in Canada.

Michelle Manks, manager of the Student Refugee Program and Campus Engagement at WUSC says the number has been raised to accommodate students affected by the Syrian crisis.

“Each year, we usually sponsor about 80 students, but next year we are expecting over 160 students. Half of them will be coming from Middle East,” she says.

One of the challenges in bringing Syrian refugees into the Canadian school system is that their academic strengths and needs are not the same. A majority of refugees have been living in camps for decades or were born in camps, whereas most Syrian students have been displaced more recently and as such have often spent more years in school.    

Reem Alhaj, a WUSC sponsored student at York University in Toronto, feels fortunate that she was accepted into the program after escaping Syria six years ago, while her brother was trapped by the regime forces. 

“I wanted to get my education. I have all my documents with me and my English is good,” she says, commenting on why she was accepted to the program.

Universities’ collaboration with WUSC

WUSC is a non-profit agency with headquarters in Ottawa that partners with dozens of Canadian universities and colleges. It has sponsored over 1,500 refugee students since 1978 from refugee camps all over the world. 

Since 2010, it has worked with camps in Jordan and Lebanon, taking in students from Iraq, Palestine, Sudan and Somalia. It plans to target asylum-seekers in Malaysia and expand its services for Syrian students over the next few years.

“Syrian nationals are not from camps necessarily, because they are largely in urban contexts,” Manks clarifies.

In response to the Syrian displacement, York University has agreed to contribute its own resources to sponsor an additional five WUSC refugee students starting in September 2016.

"Next year we are expecting over 160 students. Half of them will be coming from Middle East."

“It is a significant increase and likely to match the historic commitment of [the] University of British Colombia,” says Don Dippo, faculty member and local adviser to the WUSC committee at York University.

At Ryerson University, these students are called “WUSC Scholars” says Abu Arif, coordinator for international student support at Ryerson University. 

“We do not lower our academic standard to accept the students because if we do that they won't be successful here,” says Arif.

Every year, Ryerson University absorbs one or two WUSC sponsored students. Next year it plans to accept more students from Syria. 

“It depends on how much levy we have in our funds. It has to make financial sense,” he adds.

Syrian students more prepared for higher education

After the finalization of applications, these students are invited to take a language test — either in English or French — and an interview to gauge their strengths.

“People studying in universities, for instance living in Damascus, are more prepared to begin studies here,” says Dippo.

In terms of language, it’s relatively tough for Syrian students who followed Arabic language curriculum to transition to school in Canada, but easier for students coming from camps that teach English or French. 

“We do not lower our academic standard to accept the students."

For Syrians coming from an urban background, the transition process for them is often less jarring since they likely have attended school more recently and might already have university experiences.

In addition to upholding tough academic standards, the program does not have much leniency when it comes to missing documentation such as transcripts.

“Unfortunately, we are not able to accept students who don’t have documents. It’s the requirement of institutions,” added Manks.

Support for students upon arrival

Universities and colleges have their own structures to provide academic support for arriving refugees. Faculty members and student committees often help them throughout their transition to Canada, meeting them at the airport and assisting them during their settlement period both on and off the campus.

“We also offer various programming and workshops for the students’ transition period,” says Arif.

This scholarship is unique in the sense that these students come in as permanent residents who are allowed to work in Canada or opt for student loans. This is important for those who hope to send money back to their families. Other international students require work visas to earn money in Canada and often return home after completing their studies.

While these refugee students do receive significant support, many still face challenges settling down at the institutions and in a new country.

For Syrians coming from an urban background, the transition process for them is often less jarring.

After arriving in Canada in August 2014, Alhaj appreciated the WUSC team and says that they made her feel accepted; however, her fellow students struggled to understand her experiences. 

“They have over-generalized the diverse crisis of Syria,” she says.

“I had to face classification. I had lots of sympathetic responses, which are sometimes humiliating and lack empathy,” Alhaj says.

Now in Canada without her family, Alhaj is working towards self-healing and is motivated to become involved in international affairs. Her dream is to become a member of a decision making body that can help her people back in Syria.

"I will try to do something about it. Syrians have suffered and fought too much for democracy,” she concludes. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Education
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 23:41

Students Lead Initiatives to Help Syrians

by Florence Hwang in Regina

When the pledge was announced to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, many Canadians wanted to help — university students being no exception.

Using their resourcefulness and skills, students across the country have come up with tangible ways to help the new immigrants settle into their lives.

This ranges from handling legal paperwork, to collecting cutlery sets, to simply befriending incoming refugees.

More than just paperwork

In September, Rosa Stall, a third-year law student at Queen’s University, read an Ottawa Citizen article about how University of Ottawa law students started the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program. In this program, they worked with local lawyers to help people who were interested in helping out privately sponsored refugees.

In less than a month, that program attracted 140 volunteer lawyers, reported the Citizen.

Inspired by this initiative, Stall reached out to her classmates Jess Spindler, Kaisha Thompson and Lauren Wilson to set up something similar in Kingston.

So far, the Queen’s Law Refugee Support Program has met with local lawyers and helped different community groups resettle the refugees in Canada. This program provides training to lawyers and students regarding immigration law to help with the refugees’ paperwork.

In less than a month, that program attracted 140 volunteer lawyers.

The program has now grown to connect other Syrian refugee-related efforts through a portal hosted on their website.

Through their online fundraising campaign, the group has raised $1,896 to help Queen’s University professors sponsor a refugee themselves. They have also raised $550 offline and hosted a cutlery campaign where people had to collect stickers to redeem cutlery sets that would be donated to immigrants.

“Every single little bit helps, whether it’s taking somebody to the library or giving them cutlery or donating a lamp or something,” says Wilson.

Discovering similarities with newcomers

Thompson says this experience has been very eye-opening for her. She remarked that the refugee the professors sponsored was non-religious and spoke English, which surprised her as many may think Syrian refugees are Muslim and only speak Arabic.

“I think that the conception that we have of Syrian refugees of them being different than us is actually a false construction,” she says.

Thompson adds, “We’ve been learning a lot about the struggles that he [the sponsored refugee] faces, the political challenges that Syria is enduring currently. We are working towards creating a positive welcoming space for them in Canada and being an example to others who I think feel confused based on some of the media articles and the way that their issues are being portrayed.”

Efforts at other universities around Canada

One of the volunteer students with the Ryerson University Lifeline Syrian Challenge is Radwan Al-Nachawati, who speaks Arabic. This third-year marketing student, who is a Muslim of Syrian descent, is an Arabic interpreter for one of the newly arrived families.

When he found out about the Syrian crisis, he felt helpless, so he was glad to hear he had an opportunity to help through his school.

“It was definitely an uplifting feeling because it gave me a chance to help,” says Al-Nachawati, who is also the President of the Ryerson Muslims Association. 

Other students used their skills and training to help the Syrian refugees; for example. finance majors helped immigrants open a bank account and nursing students helped them set up their health cards.

He was glad to hear he had an opportunity to help through his school.

Another Ryerson student who felt moved to help out is Jaimie Dufresne. Dufresne is part of a sponsorship team that’s helping one family settle in Toronto. She remembers how emotional one of the three sons, who had arrived earlier in Canada, was when he was reunited with his family.

“I’m sure it must have been traumatic because they really trying to stay together. It was hard for them to be apart from him for so long,” says Dufresne, who is a PhD student in molecular science. 

Although Dufrese didn’t have much in the way of monetary funds to donate to incoming refugees, she noted she had time and skills to offer.

“It made me less hopeless about it. It made feel really good to be able to do something about it,” Dufresne says.

For the students, by the students

Concordia University’s Syrian Student Association initially helped raise funds for basic needs like clothing, food, housing, tutoring language and paperwork.

But they wanted to do more. That’s why Kinan Swaid, president of the Association, wants to build a resource centre dedicated to help all refugees that’s a stand-alone organization that is affiliated with the university.

The third-year mechanical engineering student notes that the only way for the centre to continue on is for it to start getting funding from the students, saying that it’s a service for and by the students.

Swaid, who is Syrian, says this refugee centre would ideally offer assistance to address psychological, medical, housing, education, career and financial needs immigrants may need.

The students will be able to vote at a referendum on whether they want to support this resource centre in the upcoming student by-election in March. The centre, if it goes through, will be funded by students based on their course load credits. 

 If the centre gets the green lights from the students, Swaid thinks the centre could be built by next September. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Education

by Vinita Srivastava in Toronto 

At first, the news of the cancellation of a free yoga class for disabled students by the University of Ottawa Student Federation and the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD) due to issues of cultural appropriation read like really good satire. 

Like many others who responded, tweeted and commented with shock and exasperation, I found it amusing. The cancelation of one yoga class seemed like an utter misplacement of energy – ridiculousness and chaos caused by a few students in power.

On the scale of cultural appropriation (where elements of a minority culture are ‘borrowed’ and sometimes misrepresented by the dominant culture), a yoga class seems mild. After all, isn’t it a little late where yoga is concerned?

Yoga has been integrated into the western world for at least 20 years. Is this like saying we should not eat cous cous or chow mein for dinner?

But then, as the public and media voices around me got self-righteous and even angrier about how wrong this politically correct move was, I found myself thinking about the student federation at the University of Ottawa (U of O) and the fact that these students have not backed down in the face of ridicule. 

I imagined myself in the place of those students for a moment. 

In those early days of political awareness, I sometimes said dogmatic things and was accused of being ‘politically correct’. 

Sometimes politics requires us to be extreme even if just to raise an issue. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play.

Then I looked at the situation at the U of O as a faculty adviser and professor, which I have been for many years. 

It is interesting that even though my analysis is imminently more sophisticated than my student days, I am still sometimes called ‘politically correct’ in relation to conversations around race and culture. 

Daring to challenge privilege

Based on the Internet furor this yoga cancellation has raised, challenging the privilege of being able to appropriate someone else’s culture does not sit well with the general public. 

How dare these students challenge privilege? 

But it wasn’t too long ago gangs calling themselves ‘The Dotbusters’ harassed women wearing bindis and saris in Toronto and New Jersey. And only last week a University of British Columbia student was spit at for being Muslim. 

We are still a far cry from the utopia where we can all borrow culture without any power dynamics in play. 

[W]ouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about cultural appropriation?

Perhaps these students are new to their political analysis, making them more dogmatic than necessary. Perhaps they have been badly misrepresented by a miffed yoga teacher. Perhaps we members of the press are simply too eager for a controversial story that we can feed to our hungry audiences. 

But wouldn’t it be great if the U of O helped out by leading the public and the student federation in a conversation about this misunderstanding and even about cultural appropriation? 

Instead, the University of Ottawa Twitter feed placed the school in opposition to its student federation. 

The university distanced itself by first tweeting that a student group made the decision to cancel the yoga class, and later tweeting an announcement that free yoga classes would still be available for dates in December. 

Need for universities to host critical conversations

At the heart of the student federation’s investigation into the yoga class and other student activities is the issue of inclusion. I doubt the federation’s members would move to suspend a class simply for the fun of it. 

By taking this action, students have raised these questions about their campus: Who is made to feel welcome within the selection of student activities at the U of O? Who is made to feel excluded? What are the best activities and classes to offer the student body? 

We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them.

Of course, yoga originated in South Asia, but, like pizza, chow mein and cous cous, it is now part of our international, multicultural every day. 

Whether or not the students at the U of O meant to raise this issue with such fervour, the issue has nevertheless, been raised. We should perhaps listen to what the students are saying instead of deriding their voices, making their campus feel unsafe to them. 

The student federation at the U of O released a statement last week saying how disheartened its members feel by the rhetoric being used to critique their process. 

They say they feel disappointed and harassed, some by violence. They feel their process has been misrepresented. 

"The CSD in no way thought that suspending this program for the semester with the intention of improving it for a January return would cause this much uproar," read the statement. "Let us please … have a more conducive dialogue around how to make our campuses more accessible to those who do not feel safe.” 

There is clearly a need for university campuses to facilitate open and critical dialogue about difficult and sensitive issues like cultural appropriation, inclusion and exclusion. Perhaps there is no better lesson than this, as the story turns into the latest Internet meme.

Vinita Srivastava is an editor and journalist who has been a university educator for the last decade. She is currently the creative director of Upsari by Pondichéri.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 14 October 2015 01:14

New Immigrants Struggle to Save for College

by Marieton Pacheco in Vancouver

In today’s economy, Filipina-Canadian healthcare worker Bing Orense struggles to save for her children’s education.
Still, she puts in $150 every month for two of her kids — Jenny, 15, and NJ, 12 — knowing it will be a worthy investment in the future. 
She says it doesn’t even matter if she has to borrow money for it; she’s learned a hard lesson from her experience with her eldest daughter, 25-year-old Joanna.
Difficult beginnings
Orense arrived in Canada under the Domestic Worker Program in 1990, four years before her family joined her in the country. 
Like it is for many new immigrants, starting a new life together was difficult at first as both Orense and her husband worked odd jobs to help make ends meet. 
She heard about the Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), a tax-sheltered investment option for parents and guardians to save for their children's post secondary education, through an insurance agent. However, with many expenses to meet, there was simply no extra money to contribute to an RESP.
“It starts with affordability,” says Orense. “It’s paycheque versus expenses — what are my priorities? With food, housing, clothing, transportation and some leisure expenses, our paycheque wasn’t even enough to cover the basics.”
The family’s circumstances improved by 2001 when Orense and her husband both found regular jobs with extended health and dental benefits. They started setting aside $100 per month, but it was too late. 
“It’s paycheque versus expenses — what are my priorities?"

The savings weren’t enough to cover their daughter Joanne’s tuition when she began attending the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2008. 
Orense explains that they were able to get about $8,000 from Joanne’s RESP, which was only enough to cover her first year at UBC. 
She and her husband had to take out annual loans of approximately $10,000 to cover Joanna’s second to fourth years of studying. The burden became so heavy that by her final year in university, Joanna offered to take out a student loan.
Orense says that the reason she and her husband were willing to incur debt to pay for most of Joanna's education was because they wanted to be supportive.
“I think we Filipinos are used to paying for our children’s education,” Orense explains. “At that time, it was what both my husband and I wanted… we encouraged her to keep going to school, learn and get a degree.”
The reality of having to pay for her own school came with a lot of sacrifices for Joanna. She lived and stayed at home while attending university to save on dorm and rental costs. The young student also worked odd jobs to pay for her allowance and other spending. 
Importance of saving early
Although Orense believes this experience taught Joanna how to budget and save money, she is taking a different approach with her younger children, having started their education savings early. 
Although she has a bigger family with more expenses now, she tries to save for her children’s education even if it means starting small.
“I regret not making the most of the 20 per cent government grant so I really try and force myself to save,” Orense says. “Every extra I have goes there, it’s an investment.”
Financial adviser Lorina Serafico agrees. 
Serafico is also co-founder of the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR). The organization holds weekly sessions to empower caregivers with knowledge on issues like labour rights, immigration policies and financial literacy. 
“I regret not making the most of the 20 per cent government grant."

Serafico admits that education savings are hardly a priority for many caregivers in their first few years in Canada. Much of this has to do with their temporary status in the beginning.
“It’s hard for nannies because their children are not here yet and so saving for their education is still far from their minds,” she explains. “Their priority is to get landed status first for their husband and children to come here.”
She adds that once they bring their families to Canada, these caregivers also have a limited pool of money that can go to savings since many of them still carry debt to cover the costs of migrating to a new country. 
Take advantage of the free stuff
Despite these challenges, Serafico says there are ways to start saving for education early as long as it is made a priority. 
Newcomers can make use of money from government assistance programs like the Child Tax Benefit and the Universal Child Care Benefit to start their children’s RESP. 
Serafico says many caregivers can learn more about the RESP when they receive notice from government of their eligibility for the Canada Learning Bond, a grant offered to children of low-income families to help start their education savings.
She also encourages Filipinos to break the habit of sending their children to private elementary and high schools when they can take advantage of the public school system and use the money to save for post-secondary education instead. 
“You can start small, and take advantage of the free stuff and any money you can put to college, put it there,” urges Serafico.
Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

This is the first n a five-part education series on New Canadian Media looking at the experiences of different families with saving for education in Canada. November is financial literacy month across Canada and November 15-21 is Education Savings Week.
Visit to learn more about Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) and to start an RESP with your choice of six major banks and credit unions. RESP information is available in 16 languages. Apply online between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015 and you will automatically be entered to win one of nine $1,000 weekly prizes! Learn more here.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

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When you ask students why they are attending college or university, you don’t hear “For the love of learning” as an answer very frequently. You hear mostly about jobs and money. Beyond this motivation, the decision to attend post-secondary studies in Canada involves many factors including personal development, academic preparation, career goals, finances, location, family […]...

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