This article is the first in a three-part series on the WUSC program at the University of Alberta.
The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) dedicated fee unit (DFU), the oldest DFU in the Students’ Union (SU), started in 1988.
WUSC is a DFU-funded program that brings students from refugee camps to study at the U of A as permanent residents. The DFU of $0.50 is paid by all full-time undergraduate students in the winter and fall semesters. It is used to support the WUSC recipient in their first year, and to a lesser extent throughout the rest of their degree.
In the past year, concerns have been raised about the success of students coming to the U of A through WUSC, as well as the continuity of the student group from year to year. A board will be added to the DFU in Fall 2019 with the aim of increasing communication between the local committee, the university, and the SU, as well as to help in the succession of the committee each year.
WUSC is managed by a local committee of student volunteers who help each year’s recipient with getting settled, registering for classes, finding the local grocery store, and buying winter clothes. They also help with the various administrative tasks a new resident to Canada must handle, such as setting up a bank account and getting their social insurance card. There is a committee on both North Campus and Campus Saint-Jean. The two campuses alternate receiving a WUSC student each year.
In a Students’ Council meeting in February 2019, John Hussein, a business councillor and WUSC recipient, raised concerns about the success rate of WUSC students and the number who have not completed their degrees. He said there is a “detachment” between the students in the local committee and the SU and that the SU should be involved more in WUSC since their funding comes from the DFU.
“The truth is, students alone can’t do this. That’s why I [reached out to the] vice-president (student life), who deals with mental health and advising,” Hussein said. “I think the SU could provide some basic support.”
Emma Ripka, 2018-19 SU vice-president (operations and finance), said she followed up on those concerns and spoke to the local committee on North Campus.
In a meeting on April 16 between the North Campus and Campus-Saint Jean committees, a representative from U of A International, as well as Ripka and incoming VP (operations and finance) Luke Statt, they decided to restart the Student Refugee Program Board which hasn’t existed for the past 10 years, even though all DFUs in the SU are mandated to have one. The board will act as the overseeing body of the program, looking primarily at finances but also at other concerns.
The board will meet again in September, and then on a continual basis. Ripka said the role of the SU will be of an organizational nature.
“We don’t want to overtake WUSC, because that’s not the SU’s role,” she said. “It’s to try to empower the group to succeed in their goals. We wouldn’t want to be so involved as to take ownership over it, but [would] definitely like to support.”