International student enrolment on the rise in Ottawa

Post-secondary institutions in Ottawa are welcoming ever larger numbers of foreign students on campus this fall, as they boost international enrolment to offset a projected drop in Canadian students.
In the 2014-15 school year, the Ontario government said there were 76,000 full-time international students in the province, a doubling of enrolment since 2010. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Post-secondary institutions in Ottawa are welcoming ever larger numbers of foreign students on campus this fall, as they boost international enrolment to offset a projected drop in Canadian students.

As of Sept. 19, the University of Ottawa had 1,350 new international students registered, its largest number so far. In a statement, acting manager of media relations Néomie Duval credited the rise to the university's recruitment efforts and a discount it offers to French-speaking international students.

"As many other universities in Canada, uOttawa focuses on international recruitment to outweigh a decrease in student population, especially in Ontario," Duval wrote.

She noted how the Council of Ontario Universities has long predicted a drop in young people because the children of baby boomers have passed university age.

The University of Ottawa aims to double the number of foreign graduate students enrolled, and grow undergraduate enrolment by 50 per cent, until international students make up nine per cent of the student body.

Similarly, Algonquin College wants international students to count for 10 per cent of its enrolment in the long term.

'You have to have growth'

"If you have rising costs, you have to have growth for you to survive," said Doug Wotherspoon, vice-president of international, communication and strategic priorities at Algonquin. "So obviously when your domestic numbers are going down you want to supplement that and keep growing, so international is the place to look for that."

Algonquin travels to 30 countries to recruit students, Wotherspoon said, and has opened offices in Beijing, China and Mumbai, India, the two countries most important to the college. Business and information technology programs are its most popular among foreign students, he added.

"It's critically important and it's fiercely competitive," said Wotherspoon of the push to lure international students, which he said is fiercer even among countries than among institutions.

The potential economic benefits of being a destination for international education have not been lost on governments.

The 2010 Ontario budget promised to increase international student enrolment in colleges and universities by 50 per cent over five years, to 57,000 province-wide. It cited the benefits of diversity on campus and the economic benefit to Ontario, which it calculated to be $27,000 per student per year.

By the 2014-15 school year, the government said there were 76,000 full-time international students, a doubling of enrolment in that five-year span.

Canada-wide strategy announced in 2014

In January 2014, then federal international trade minister Ed Fast likewise announced a Canada-wide strategy to double international student enrolment, focused on Brazil, China, India, Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East and Vietnam.

International students in Ottawa realize their schools benefit financially from their tuition, which is much greater than that of their Canadian counterparts, but they are still pleased with their choice to study here.

"It is cheaper than other countries, say Europe or U.S.," said Umang Nagpal, of India, who likes the variety of coursework in his masters of engineering degree at Carleton University. "So we preferred Canada."

Carleton's strategic plan has a more modest goal of increasing first-year foreign student enrolment by three per cent annually.

And Wotherspoon, from Algonquin College, underlines that everyone on campus benefits from the presence of international students.

"I think of international students, to be frank, as superheroes," said Wotherspoon, who admires how they throw themselves into a language and culture that aren't their own in order to better themselves. "I think that kind of spirit is what you want in your classroom."