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Province unveils new strategy to attract international students to local universities

  • Former international student David Arenas believes more labour incentives are needed to keep international students in the province after graduation. – Kelsey Clifford

With economic hardships potentially putting a damper on local enrolment, the Government of Manitoba is putting all its effort into attracting international students to the province.

The province unveiled its new International Education Strategy in late January. The strategy examines how the province can help Manitoba universities become hot spots for international recruitment.

Minister of Competitiveness Andrew Swan said the government sees a lot of benefits to bringing international students here.

“It provides revenue, it creates diversity and it creates new connections for all of us,” Swan said.

He pointed to the $5 billion dollars that international students annually bring to the Canadian economy and said the province hopes to bring some of that money here.

The strategy includes broad recommendations and comes without any new funding as of yet. However, the government is also open to suggestions from universities on what they can do to help, and it may choose to allocate money if universities come to them with appealing proposals, Swan said.

David Arenas is a former international student from Mexico. While the recent University of Manitoba graduate described his overall study experience in Manitoba as good, he also has some recommendations for improvement.

Arenas would like to see more support and information for students who first arrive.

“When you first arrive it’s very hard to find a job because you don’t have Canadian work experience,” he said.

Neil Besner, associate vice-president international at the University of Winnipeg, likes the idea of working with the province to attract more students.

Besner recognized Arenas’ concerns and said that providing proper advising and guidance for new students was a priority for the university.

Although the province did not set aside any new funding for the initiative, Besner said the additional fees paid by international students cover the added costs of recruitment and acclimatization.

Because international students pay higher fees, local students don’t have to be concerned about losing funding or space, Besner said.

International students pay 260 per cent more than regular students, at $2,006.40 versus $557.28 for a six credit hour course.

Currently the U of W has about 500 international students; that is five per cent of the university’s total population. Besner hopes to increase it to 10 per cent by 2012.

Increasing the number of international students was good for the economy, he said.

“International students provide a good source of educated immigrants.”

Arenas said the province needs to give students a career-related reason to stay in the province.

“Students need the opportunity to advance in their careers,” he said.

Swan hopes the new strategy will address this need.

“The long term by-product of this strategy is more opportunities for joint ventures and more opportunities to collaborate with other countries,” he said.

Chances are high Arenas will leave Manitoba now that his studies are done.

But Swan said this is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Whether they stay or go home, they will be good ambassadors for this province,” he said.

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