Nova Scotia

Cape Breton University responds to concerns over international student enrolment

The president of Cape Breton University has posted an open letter acknowledging the 'challenges' created by the increase in international student enrolment.

University president says growth brings many positives, acknowledges challenges in employment, housing

Cape Breton University president David Dingwall at a funding announcement for the university in March 2022. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Senior administrators at Cape Breton University say they are addressing concerns regarding the housing and employment struggles facing international students who have responded to a years-long overseas recruiting effort.

An open letter to the community published Thursday and signed by CBU president David Dingwall the university notes the positive impact of international students — but goes on to acknowledge concerns raised recently about a lack of affordable housing and employment.

"We are very aware of the narrative right now within the community, and we want to reassure you that we at CBU are always innovating and looking for solutions," reads the letter.

It states that between 350 and 1,000 new students are expected to arrive in January.

No one from CBU was available for comment on the letter on Thursday.

Criticisms follow fatal fire

An international student died in a house fire in Sydney on Saturday. He shared the unit with seven other students. 

In the wake of the fire, first-year CBU student Vrinda Katore told CBC that the university needs to press pause on recruiting internationally due to the housing and job shortage. 

"I've been seeing a pattern of exploitation that's been happening with the students," she said.

She said the university is outgrowing its surrounding infrastructure and contributing to a housing crisis.

"So stop offering those enrollment letters," she said in a video posted on Facebook to a page called CB International Community.

"And future students … if you're listening to this video, trust me, right now, this place is not equipped for you to come in. It is a struggle that … the students here did not expect."

University has relied on international recruiting

Two-thirds of CBU's enrollment rate are international students. At 67 per cent, that's the highest in the Atlantic region with UPEI next in line at just above 30 per cent.

The boom in international recruitment started to take off in 2018 after university officials realized they couldn't rely on domestic students to keep the university financially viable.

But CBU vice-president of finance Gordon MacInnis said those recruitment efforts weren't just about making money.

"We believe … post-secondary education is the new coal and steel of 2022 and we think the benefits for the community are immeasurable," he said. 

The letter from Dingwall posted Thursday notes those benefits are a double-edged sword.

"With growth comes many positives, but it also has its challenges," reads the letter. 

"These challenges include affordable housing, which is a national issue, as well as unemployment, which has always challenged this region."

The letter indicates that as university officials "work through this growth," they have launched a Strategic Enrolment Management Plan.

"This means determining the most appropriate number of students for our campus and offering the right mix of programs based on current demand," reads the letter.


More than 6,000 students from 70 countries worldwide attend Cape Breton University, according to an open letter posted by the university's president Thursday. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Some steps have been taken to cap high-demand programs

The letter states that COVID-19 caused an unusual surge in the international student population because travel and government visa processing was paused due to COVID-19.

"This meant many students who were accepted to CBU in 2020/21 could not travel to Canada and had to defer their enrolment," it reads. "When restrictions were lifted, a double cohort of students began arriving on campus."

University officials are advocating for more support from all forms of government, and international students are clearly informed through a variety of communications of housing and employment challenges before their arrival, the letter reads. 

It states that while the management plan is underway, some steps have already been taken, including changing application intake times and capping high-demand programs."It will take time to see the changes occur as students move through their programs, many of which are two years in length, and graduate," reads the letter.

WATCH | Cape Breton University international student enrolment nearly doubles:

Cape Breton University international student enrolment nearly doubles

5 months ago
Duration 3:16
Two-thirds of students enrolling at CBU are international students. Matthew Moore has the story.


Josefa Cameron

Associate producer/reporter

Josefa is an associate producer and reporter at CBC Nova Scotia. You can reach her at

With files from Matthew Moore