CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Post-secondary institutions on the Island will receive a combined total of $1.5 million in government funding as part of an effort to keep more international students in the region after they graduate.
The funding is being offered as part of the Study and Stay program, a regional program designed to retained more international students in Atlantic Canada after they graduate. UPEI will receive $932,068 in funding from the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency, while Holland College will receive $437,175. The provincial government will also provide $176,625 to UPEI, Holland College and the College de l’Île.
P.E.I., like all provinces in Canada, is facing challenges in keeping international students in the province after graduation. According to the most recent figures available, P.E.I. only manages to retain 15.4 per cent of international students who graduate from local post-secondary institutions, despite research which suggests a majority of these students want to remain as immigrants.
Most of the Island’s recent population growth has come from immigration; out-migration of young Islanders is an ongoing concern.
At a funding announcement on Wednesday, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said the funding would allow the province to better fill labour shortages on the Island.
"We know there are labour shortages and gaps in our workforce and an aging population will only further widen this gap if strategic steps are not taken,” Casey said.
“That's where Study and Stay comes in. When you can attract and retain students from around the world who are highly educated, the gaps in labour market demands will be reduced."
"You have to have sustainable relationships. You have to send your recruiters (to other countries), once or twice. And you have to send them every year. That costs some resources and is very important. The fact that we are doing very well doesn't mean we have to slow down."
-UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz
UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz said the university plans to divide the funds 50-50 between supporting the university’s recruiting efforts and enhancing support services and programs for international students on-campus.
The university’s existing recruiting department has had considerable success in attracting students. UPEI now boasts an international student population of 1,211, which represents 26 per cent of the its student body. The university has doubled its international student population during the last five years.
But Abd-El-Aziz said increasing the funding for UPEI’s international recruiting department was still justified.
"You have to have sustainable relationships. You have to send your recruiters (to other countries), once or twice. And you have to send them every year. That costs some resources and is very important," Abd-El-Aziz said.
"The fact that we are doing very well doesn't mean we have to slow down."
Most UPEI undergraduate international students, whose studies are not supported by Canadian tax dollars, pay an additional yearly fee of $7,176 on top of their tuition.
A recent report released by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations suggested international students are increasingly facing both social and academic barriers.
The report found student services and support programming, such as academic writing centres and counselling services, are often inadequate for a population facing the double shock of a new culture and an unfamiliar education system. The report also noted few financial supports or bursaries exists for international students in Canada.
UPEI Student Union (UPEISU) vice-president Emma Drake has met with several university staff members and international students in recent months. Her two biggest concerns are a lack of on-campus assistance with immigration or visa applications and the lack of available bursaries or awards.
International students do not qualify for most bursaries nor federal student loan programs.
"It's huge," Drake said, speaking of the financial needs of international students.
"There's very limited options when it comes to international financial support."
According to Casey, the new funding will not be used for financial awards.
Still, both Drake and UPEISU president William McGuigan said the announcement was positive news.
“It’s a good first step,” Drake said.