Nova Scotia·Global Studies

Surge in international student population leads to major growth for CBU

When it comes to student enrolment, Cape Breton University has been charging ahead of other post-secondary institutions in the region.

Increased revenue has helped university withstand budget pressure

Indian students Samual Shaji, Anu Mariam Varghese, Tintu Sebastian, Divya Balakrishnan Nair, Jaya Kaushik and Gurjot Singh at CBU. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Global Studies is a CBC series exploring how the influx of international students at Cape Breton University is transforming the school and the community.

When it comes to student enrolment, Cape Breton University has been charging ahead of other post-secondary institutions in the region.

CBU has seen its full-time undergraduate enrolment increase by 44 per cent over the last year, from 2,213 in September 2017 to 3,187 in September 2018.

It is largely due to an influx of international students.

"I have no words to describe how big a deal this is," said Alex Usher, president of Toronto-based consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates. "I doubt if any university in the country has seen a one-year increase that big in over 40 years."

He made the comment in a recent blog post titled "Good Lord Cape Breton."

In fact, in that one-year period, Cape Breton accounted for more than half of the international student growth in all of Atlantic Canada.

And the trend continues.

500 more students this month

Another 500 international students enrolled at CBU in advance of the winter semester. Now international students make up more than half of the university's student body.

"It's off the scale what's happened this year," Usher said in an interview with CBC Cape Breton's Information Morning.

He called the implications of the increase "breathtaking."

International students pay twice as much per course as domestic students. That's meant a gross "revenue lift" of about $7 million, said Gordon MacInnis, CBU's vice president of finance and operations.

The boost to the student population comes with costs.

Those include the fees paid to recruiting agents around the globe, the additional classroom resources — the school of engineering has hired nine new faculty members since August — and out-of-class services, such as the hiring of an off-campus housing co-ordinator.

That said, CBU is still left with money to put toward investments, such as campus infrastructure, said MacInnis.

The infusion of revenue has helped CBU weather declining domestic enrolments and dwindling government funding. The university now gets more revenue from international students than from the province.

Wide-ranging benefits

The benefits extend beyond the CBU campus.

According to a report commissioned last year by the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training, international students in Atlantic Canada spend more than $30,000 per year. It estimates the overall economic impact amounts to $500 million per year across the region.

Then there's the demographic impact.

"And if there is a community that needs population, it is Cape Breton," said MacInnis.

The report found about two thirds of the international students hope to stay in Atlantic Canada after graduation.


Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at

With files from Cape Breton's Information Morning and Mainstreet programs