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Province sees surge in international students

Manitoba is welcoming four times the number of international students than it did a decade ago and despite warnings from the federal government, stakeholders say local campuses can accommodate more growth.

Immigration records show at least 16,745 study permits approved in the province last year. In 2013, there were a total of 4,180.

The five-year average is currently 12,903 and that figure takes into account the COVID-19 pandemic’s wide-scale disruptions to travel and operations at local colleges and universities.

“They had a virtual tour and I really liked what I saw, so right away, I was sold,” said Guyana-born Shaluckie Boatswain as she recalled her decision to apply to the University of Winnipeg.

Boatswain said she was drawn to the U of W’s small overall population, its promise of intimate class sizes that allow students to get to know their instructors, and most of all, its relatively affordable tuition in comparison to university fees elsewhere in the world.

She began her studies in 2012 — a year that marks a turning point in international student growth.

Enrolment was fairly stable with minor fluctuations in both directions in the 10 years before her move. In the years since, Manitoba has accepted an average of 1,199 visas annually.

Ottawa announced one month ago it would cap new visas for undergraduate students in 2024 and 2025 to quell pressure on housing markets across the country and crack down on bad actors that deliver a poor education for high tuition.

The announcement has prompted panic among applicants — every foreign national who wants to study in Canada for more than six months requires a permit — and post-secondary administrators. The latter group has become increasingly reliant on international revenue to balance budgets in recent years.

Only 364,000 visas, a drop of 35 per cent, will be handed out across the country this year. Next year’s tally has yet to be released.

“The reality is we have many communities in this country with lots of absorptive capacity. They could sustainably welcome more students,” said Larissa Bezo, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

OVERSET FOLLOWS:Manitoba is home to about 28,000 international students at present and is among those where there is “still room,” Bezo noted.

At the same time, she said the federal government needs to strike a balance because temporary residents are at risk of falling through cracks in overcrowded markets such as the Greater Toronto Area, where there are strains on housing stock, transportation and health care.

As far as she is concerned, business leaders, municipal leaders and planners should all weigh in on local plans related to temporary resident visas because they have unique insight on how immigration affects their community’s services.

Education observers attribute a surge in international student arrivals over the last dozen years to a nationwide push to market local schools and post-graduate work permits, the U.S. tightening its borders, and a decrease in public funding that has prompted schools to seek other revenue streams, among other factors.

The most popular countries of origin in 2023 were India, China, the Philippines, Nigeria and France, per an analysis from ICEF Monitor, a market intelligence resource for the industry.

Advanced Education Minister Renée Cable said conversations about study permit allocations linked to the new cap have yet to begin. “We are still in discussions with the federal government and are asking for Manitoba’s fair share,” Cable said in a statement Tuesday.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press