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N.S. university limits foreign student enrolment after recruitment too successful


Cape Breton University says it's limiting enrolment to a popular business program following concerns the school is not equipped to handle the recent influx of international students.

The university is limiting admissions to its two-year post-baccalaureate diploma program -- which is favoured by international students -- starting May 2023 "as part of the deliberate strategy to manage the enrolment in that program downward," Gordon MacInnis, vice president of finance and operations, said in an interview Thursday.

Based in Sydney, N.S., the university in the fall semester held classes for that program at the downtown Cineplex cinemas -- about nine kilometres from campus -- because of a lack of teaching space. All but two of the 2,681 people enrolled in the post-baccalaureate program are international students, and 85 per cent of those foreign students are from India.

The recent spike in international enrolment follows targeted recruitment in India that began in 2018 and what MacInnis called "COVID-referrals." The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, led many students to defer their studies at the university while it was unsafe to travel, only to enrol when health restrictions were lifted.

But the overall increase in foreign students is due to the school's years-long efforts to recruit overseas.

"Essentially the strategy for many, many years has been to try to replace the expected and known decline in the local domestic market with international students," MacInnis said.

"As the domestic market continued to decline, fast forward to 2018, we made a major push into India and that really has been the genesis of the major momentary increase we've seen."

An October report from the Association of Atlantic Universities found that this fall, nearly 4,000 international students were enrolled at Cape Breton University out of about 5,900 total students. That was up from about 2,400 international students in 2021, when the school had about 4,200 students. In 2017, the university had fewer than 900 international students out of about 2,600 total students.

International students at Cape Breton University pay between $18,915 and about $19,580 annually for school, about twice as much as the $9,810 that Canadian students pay.

Damanpreet Singh, president of the Cape Breton University student union, said in an interview Thursday that he is worried that international students will flee the university because of the lack of affordable housing in Sydney and the shortage of on-campus teaching space.

"There needs to be attention given to this situation, otherwise nobody will stay here," Singh said.

Singh, who's from India, said that since he moved to Sydney in May 2021 the typical rent he and his friends pay has jumped to about $500 a month for a room from $350 per month. "And some landlords are asking to be paid $700 or $800 for a single room, which is very expensive."

"And then how is it possible to pay if they don't have any job, and because this town is small it's very hard to find a job over here."

On top of housing struggles, Singh said some international students are frustrated with the lack of space on campus. He said they feel like they are missing out on the full university experience because their classes are so far away from the school.

John Nadeau, the dean of the university's business school, said in an interview in November that classes for 90 of the 146 in-person sections of the post-baccalaureate business program were being held in the downtown commercial theatre complex.

MacInnis said he has heard from international students that finding housing has been a challenge. However, he said there is unused student housing on campus. He said 112 students were sent written offers to sign up for one of the 70 dorm rooms available in January, and that only four spots were taken.

Singh said many students opt out of residence because of the high cost and the inability to cook in a dorm. The most inexpensive residence option costs $2,240 per semester and all dorm students are required to purchase the meal plan, which costs another $2,835.

Because of the major costs international students already pay in tuition and fees, Singh said he understands why some students feel they've been exploited by the university.

"We are paying a lot of fees and we are not getting the proper environment to study here."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.


A previous version said the university was limiting enrollment in the two-year post-baccalaureate diploma in business analytics. In fact, it's capping admissions for all streams in the two-year post-baccalaureate program. Top Stories

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