Foreign students flock to Manitoba classrooms

Worth A Look, Education, Frontier Centre

FOREIGN students will pump more than $50 million into the Manitoba economy this year and bring global faces to our classrooms, Advanced Education Minister Diane McGifford said yesterday.

And there is practically an unlimited pool of international high school and university students who could be drawn to Manitoba.

The only limits on recruiting foreign students are classroom space and the ability to find housing, especially host families for high school students, said Birgit Hartel, newly-elected president of the Manitoba Council for International Education.

There are about 2,500 international students in Manitoba universities — paying a 75 per cent tuition surcharge for undergraduate studies — and about 500 in high school, where they generally pay about $10,000 tuition plus room and board.

“It’s been an exponential increase,” said Hartel, international education director for River East Transcona School Division.

More than 300 delegates to the Canadian Education Centre Network national conference on international education are here this week. The CEC Network is a non-profit agency which holds education recruiting fairs around the world. From 1998 to 2001, foreign students enrolled for a full year in Canadian schools jumped 134.1 per cent.

The flood of students was up 575.1 per cent from China over those four years, 454.3 per cent from Turkey, 277.9 per cent from South Korea, 214 per cent from Vietnam, and 157 per cent from India, CEC said.

Students come here to learn English and get a North American education while immersing themselves in western culture — huge advantages in getting good jobs in a global economy, foreign students say.

The University of Winnipeg doubled its foreign student enrolment this year, and University of Manitoba increased its international student body by 39.5 per cent.

Foreign enrolment is up 32 per cent overall in Manitoba this fall, said McGifford, who predicted a pilot project allowing international students to take part-time jobs here — they’d previously been limited by Ottawa to on-campus work — will make Manitoba even more attractive.

“Manitoba is receptive to international students, and immersing our students” in the global perspectives that foreign students bring to the classroom, McGifford said. “We view international students as teachers, as well as learners.” Vancouver-based CEC Network president Rodney Briggs, formerly of Winnipeg, said that Canada was hurt earlier this year from the SARS crisis when many students coming for a short period to learn English delayed their plans, but has rebounded strongly this fall.

“The short answer, the potential is limitless” for students to come here, he said. “What is (Canada’s) capacity to take them?”

Peter Dueck, U of M’s director of enrolment services, said university demand is highest in engineering, computer science, and business.

U of M has created a transition program that works with foreign students to show how they can move from high school to university to graduate school here, he said.

“One of the main goals we have is diversity in the classroom,” Dueck said.

Hartel said that River East Transcona, Pembina Trails, Louis Riel and St. James-Assiniboia school divisions are working together to attract students. Winnipeg School Division has not been a strong recruiter, she added.

Public and private high schools in Selkirk, the Interlake, Morden and Gretna have also been strong recruiters, Hartel said.