International students generate millions for Atlantic economy

The Atlantic provinces are reconsidering how they accommodate international students after a recent study revealed those students net the four provinces millions in revenue.

The Economic Impact of Post-secondary International Students in Atlantic Canada, which was released Sept. 16 by the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education, found that international students in Atlantic Canada contributed $565 million to the economy in 2009-10. $175 million of that was new money to the region.

But, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the percentage of students who continue to live here after their studies are completed remains as low as 15.6 per cent.

The study makes suggestions on how the Atlantic provinces can keep their international student population and invest in the students’ contribution to the region’s labour force and its economy.

The four provinces are working on joint and separate projects to attract more immigrants to the region, which will help combat the recent challenges the provinces are facing with their aging demographics.

But education and living costs remain unaffordable for most students who come from overseas.

Maik Duering moved to Halifax from Germany in 2007 to enrol in Dalhousie University’s co-op commerce program. Based on his parents’ income, he was offered no financial help from the provincial government.

“Tuition would cost too much for me as an independent international student without help from my parents,” said Duering.

His situation is not uncommon. In a 2008 survey for the Nova Scotia Minister’s Post-Secondary Education Research Advisory Panel, 58.5 per cent — the highest percentage — of international student respondents listed their parents as their most important source of funding.

The CAMET report shows average annual spending by international students of up to $29,000 including education, housing and meals.

Their top concerns were tuition, books and differential fees. Lack of scholarship assistance and opportunities to work off-campus followed close behind.

Yet financial concerns aren’t the only thing affecting the outcome of international students in Nova Scotia.

Duering wasn’t informed in his home country about his options or possible experiences in Atlantic Canada, and suggests that schools like Dalhousie should be aiming to promote themselves better internationally.

One way is to have university representatives bring information abroad. Sandra Thomas, president of Dalhousie’s international students’ association, said she had a good experience here as an international student, but the main problem is attracting students from abroad.

Thomas moved to Canada five years ago from Malaysia, and didn’t have access to information until she enrolled in a boarding school in Hamilton.

There she heard about Dalhousie by word-of-mouth. The boarding school’s program is only open to international students and focuses on schools in provinces further west, like Ontario and B.C.

Khalid Al Mughairy, a fourth-year student from Oman — a small country in southwest Asia — had a similar experience.

He had to go to the only school in Oman specifically for Western students, not Omanis, to hear about Dalhousie.

In 2005, the Nova Scotia Immigration Strategy stated that one way to attract more international students would be to create “a marketing plan and promotion materials that describe what it is like to live in Nova Scotia, displaying our cultural and ethnic diversity.”

Another would be to “participate in immigration attraction missions overseas.”

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