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Students challenge SEM plan

SSMU and PGSS encouraged by new long-term approach to enrolment management

As McGill’s new enrolment management plan inches its way towards approval at Senate in March, student representatives are negotiating changes to the plan with the administration.

A draft of the Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) plan has been in circulation since October, when it was released to Senators. The plan calls for increases in graduate and international student enrolment, as well as the complete deregulation of international tuition and a geographical shift in international recruitment priorities.

“Overall I think they had a lot of good things within the document, but there are a lot of points that need clear elaboration,” said Joshua Abaki, SSMU VP University Affairs.

The plan aims to increase the total international student population from 20 to 22 per cent of the overall student body, or by over 500 students. In a draft of a SSMU submission to the Senate caucus developing the plan, Abaki asks for increased support for International Student Services (ISS) in light of the projected increase in international student enrolment.

The SSMU submission notes that in the last five years the proportion of international students has increased by 18 per cent – or slightly over 1,100 students. Meanwhile, said Abaki, in the last five years ISS have only added one more staff member.

In terms of international student support, Abaki was also concerned with the recent removal of provincial government subsidies for international students learning French.

“It doesn’t make sense at any level, because if international students are coming here and we want them to settle well in the community, it’s really important that we make it possible for them to be able to learn French. I think it’s something that the government holds dearly, and I hope McGill holds dearly,” he said.

Abaki is commissioning a report to research the escalating needs of international students, and is lobbying both the University and the provincial government to jointly subsidize French courses for international students, although he outlined SSMU contingencies should those attempts at subsidization fail.

“If the University is not interested in providing French courses at a much subsidized price, then we [would] definitely expand the scope of [SSMU] MiniCourses so that more students can access the French course,” he said.

Abaki said he has discussed providing French language services to international students with PGSS in the event that such courses don’t receive government or University subsidies, and PGSS president Alexandra Bishop acknowledged that PGSS may have to re-orient their services to accommodate the growing international student population on campus.

“The SEM focuses on recruiting top quality graduate students. … This may also create a more diverse graduate student body, and as a result we may have to evaluate the services we provide our membership and expand those to meet new demands,” wrote Bishop in an email to The Daily.

Another issue SSMU and PGSS are uniting behind is the draft consultation’s avoidance of the space and resource constraints that would result from the enrolment increases it prescribes.

“I would hope that McGill has planned to allocate more space for graduate student offices and labs, to accommodate the expected increase of students,” said Bishop.

“Space is really a major problem both for undergraduate students and grad students, and of course it’s definitely affecting the quality of education,” said Abaki. “The University first of all must clearly show that we are capable of handling an increased number of graduate students.”

The last major point of contention for Abaki concerns the new proportion of undergraduate to graduate students that could result from the implementation of the SEM plan – numbers that aren’t empirically referenced in the draft consultation.

“They definitely clearly need to articulate those goals, they definitely need to mention what those percentages are, and what they mean for different faculties,” he said, mentioning that different enrolment proportions could harm accessibility.

According to the draft consultation, McGill will increase graduate student enrolment “according to goals set through the Graduate Capacity Compact Process and will be appropriately balanced with undergraduate enrolments.” The Graduate Capacity Compact Process (GCCP) was not further described in the SEM plan, nor even mentioned again.

Abaki described the GCCP as “something that’s currently evolving,” and expressed concern that one of the SEM plan’s most significant changes – graduate enrolment – was based on such an unelaborated document.

“That’s problematic. It refers to a document that does not exist, or maybe it’s currently evolving or put together,” said Abaki.
Besides these points of contention, however, there are many features of the SEM plan both Abaki and Bishop support, including efforts to increase student diversity and accessibility for socio-economically disadvantaged students, Aboriginal students, and students with disabilities.

“The SEM also addresses many factors that will lead to a better graduate student experience, such as improving the supervisors-to-graduate student ratio and the quality of supervision provided,” said Bishop.
Abaki also praised McGill’s attempt to finally propose a long-term enrolment plan.

“It’s definitely great that now a long-term plan has been articulated,” said Abaki. “That will definitely – at the institutional level – make it easier for planning, and as well for people to anticipate what’s going to happen and for the University to align its goals appropriately.”

Representatives from both student societies have already met with McGill administrators drafting the SEM plan, and both are also submitting recommendations to the Senate caucus drafting the plan.

Abaki made a presentation on the SEM plan to SSMU Council January 6, and Bishop hopes to discuss the plan with PGSS Council February 2.

“There has been a lot of consultation about this,” said Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning, noting that discussion of the plan at Senate had been delayed from February to March, “because we weren’t able to get all the consultations done that we felt we needed to engage in.”

Specifics regarding enrolment and the deregulation of international tuition, however, remain an issue that Abaki is determined to resolve before SSMU approves the plan.

“They say they want to increase the proportion of graduate students…but they don’t mention the desired proportions,” said Abaki. “Until we see that – and what it means for different undergraduate populations – we won’t endorse the document.”

When asked for SSMU’s position on the proposed across-the-board deregulation of tuition rates for international students, Abaki said that the rates weren’t mentioned in the submission. He maintained, however, that “we definitely don’t support” the deregulation and said he planned to add this opposition to SSMU’s submission.