International students draw attention to priorities as municipal election nears

As the municipal election day gets closer, a lot has been discussed about what student voters need from each candidate and what they hope will change. Local Algonquin College students will be affected by the Oct. 24 election results, and also the many international students who attend the college and live in the city. Since […]
Photo: Elio Elia
Vibhu Sikka, an international student at Algonquin College

As the municipal election day gets closer, a lot has been discussed about what student voters need from each candidate and what they hope will change.

Local Algonquin College students will be affected by the Oct. 24 election results, and also the many international students who attend the college and live in the city.

Since election rules allow only Canadian citizens to vote, it is possible that the needs of international students may be overlooked by potential candidates, but the students’ lack of power in the election does not take away from the fact that their needs deserve to be heard.

In some cases, international students have little or no knowledge about the municipal election.

“Yeah I am somewhat aware that elections are going on right now, but I don’t know much about it,” said Vibhu Sikka, a student in the computer programming program. “One thing I’m hoping they can change is the process to get part-time jobs. In my community, we struggle a little bit with finding part-time jobs, so this is a good thing to work on for us if we get more opportunities to work.”

Sikka is hoping more can be done to have foreign students feel more included in the city.

“I’m hoping with the new government we can have more cultural events related to people who aren’t from Canada, make us more aware of such events happening around the city,” he said.

Fellow student Joel Fernando, who is in the electrical engineering technician program, feels the same way.

“While I’m not really aware of what’s happening in the election, I’m hoping that there can be more cultural functions for people to meet others from their home country and feel more included, something like that.” he said.

Electrical Engineering Technician student Joel Fernando
Electrical engineering technician student Joel Fernando Photo credit: Elio Elia

Fernando’s program mate, Narpinder Singh, thinks more needs to be done to make transportation more accessible

“I’m hoping they can improve the bus service here, the timings and that, and make the system more polished,” he said. “The buses need to come on time and not make us feel so rushed.”

Narpinder Singh, an international student currently enrolled in the electrical engineering technician program
Narpinder Singh, an international student currently enrolled in the electrical engineering technician program Photo credit: Elio Elia

Students such as Singh share a lot of the same concerns of their fellow Canadian citizen students, but the path to finding a solution is more restricted for international students.

According to former Algonquin College professor Omar Maher, this is due to the institutional difficulties faced by international students.

“In my time at the college and Ottawa alike, I have been both a student and professor, and in both positions I have witnessed to a lot of the challenges faced by international students due to the fact that they aren’t Canadians and thus have less access to the same facilities that they do,” he said.

“Whatever the makeup of the city council will be by the end of this election, I think I speak for all international students and non-citizens when I say that these barriers need to be brought down to make Ottawa feel more inclusive,” Maher said.

Election candidates are vying for positions on city council and local school boards in the Oct. 24 municipal vote. Mayor Jim Watson isn’t seeking re-election.

This typically would mean some change to come with a new regime, and according to Algonquin College acting director of the international education centre Damien Dunne, it is unlikely that the needs of international students will be ignored.

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"I think there will be a positive impact on the lives of international students," said Damien Dunne, acting director of the international education center at Algonquin College Photo credit: Elio Elia

“International students are a really valued part of the Ottawa community and I think their concerns are the same as the rest of the community.” Dunne said.

“Each of the candidates have plans for issues that concern international students and all students at Algonquin College alike, things like housing which is tight right now in Ottawa, and transportation as well, so I think there will be a positive impact on the lives of international students.”

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