Nova Scotia

'It's going to hurt': CBU's move to virtual learning fuels concerns for local economy

As Cape Breton University moves to online-only classes this fall because of COVID-19, the university isn't expected to see its usual influx of international students, which is sparking concerns about what this will mean for the local economy.

Influx of international students is not expected as CBU moves to virtual classes

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan credits international students with boosting the economy in his hometown of Glace Bay, N.S. (CBC)

As Cape Breton University moves to online-only classes this fall because of COVID-19, the university isn't expected to see its usual influx of international students, which is sparking concerns about what this will mean for the local economy.

International students make up about 65 per cent of the university's student population.

The executive director of the Cape Breton Chamber of Commerce, Kathleen Yurchesyn, said international students pump millions of dollars into the local economy each year.

"Spending money in our grocery stores and at our local small businesses, buying cars, renting apartments and in some cases buying homes," said Yurchesyn.

She said she was not surprised when CBU announced earlier this week the move to virual learning.

Cape Breton University announced Tuesday that classes would not be offered in person for the fall semester. Rather, they'll only be available online because of COVID-19. (George Mortimer/CBC)

"It just demonstrates the reality in which we're all living, which are massive decisions that are going to have big impacts on our community," said Yurchesyn.

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan is also the MLA for Glace Bay, N.S.  He said international students from CBU have meant a lot for his home community and the entire island.

"I think that it remains to be seen how deep the impact will be," he said. "But without question, you know, it's going to hurt."

An optimistic view

Omar Tag El-Din is the Cape Breton Partnership's labour market development and immigration officer. He said it's premature to comment on the impact.

"Without a new cohort of students, we can expect fewer students contributing to our economy and labour force," said Tag El-Din. "However, what's optimistic is that those graduating this month may not look to leave Cape Breton."

Many international students have opened businesses and made Cape Breton their permanent home, said Yurchesyn.

"A really good example of that is just the sheer number of different restaurants that we've seen over the number of years here in our community, the different ethnic cuisine," she said.

"That's just one example, but there's other international students that are being hired and putting their skills to work in some really key areas within our economy."

Yurchesyn also credits international students for fuelling recent provincial and municipal investments in the local transit system, such as the construction of new shelters and new buses for the fleet.

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