Laurentian and Cambrian say money not motive in pursuing more international students

A growing number of students are flying halfway around the world to Sudbury for post secondary education.The risks are huge.The students, Sudbury and its academic institutions all stand to benefit.

Schools say enhanced experience driving recruitment of students from other countries

Sudbury's post-secondary schools are welcoming an increasing number of international students. (CBC)

It's back to school season and while some students are packing a lunch and getting on the bus, others are packing a suitcase, leaving their families, and getting on a plane for a long, long flight to Sudbury.

There are hundreds of students from India, Africa, and Asia - all bound for Sudbury this fall.

Their common goal is a good education, and they are willing to pay a premium for it; on average four times the tuition of domestic students for a university education, according to the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

OUSA also says only 15% of students get some support from their home countries.

Laurentian University had about 450 international students last year, in a student body of 7,000; that's down from a high of 600 in 2015.

The drop is largely due to the recall of Saudi students in 2017 due to political unrest.

But the push is on to recover those students and more.

Laurentian strategizes to boost international recruitment

Laurentian's Director of Student Recruiting, Justin Lemieux, says a new internationalization strategy finalized last year creates a blueprint to more than double the international enrollment to 1,000 in five years. 

While a provincially-imposed tuition cut for domestic students stands to reduce revenue levels for post-secondary schools, tuition for international students remains high and, Lemieux admits, will likely rise at Laurentian.

However, he says the university doesn't make money from international tuition.

Lemieux says the cost of an education at Laurentian runs between $20-25,000 annually, more for some programs, and the province does not offer an operating grant for internationals as it does for domestic students.

He says that means annual tuition of $30,000 dollars covers the cost with a certain amount being invested back into services and programs for these students.

"They've never been away from home. They're younger so we're looking at teens, sometimes 17 years old. So they do need a lot of hand-holding," he says. 

"And what happens, with the three people that have been identified as being the international supports, they become the family away from home for these international students. They become the first point of contact. And what these three individuals do on staff is, they support those students by re-directing them to the proper departments or the proper people on campus for better advice or for academic advice or for any additional support they may need."  

 Lemieux says there is a plan to add more support staff as enrollment rises over the next few years.

Across town at Cambrian College, about 1,000 students from 30 countries attended the Barrydowne campus last year making them about one in every five students.

The proportion is rising with about 1,200 enrolled this September, about three-quarters from India.

Kristine Morrissey is Vice President of International, Finance and Administration.

Cambrian wants to bring the world to Sudbury

Morrissey says average annual tuition is $14,000, and, like Laurentian's Justin Lemieux she says that about covers the cost of the education and support services.

She says $8,700 goes towards the cost of the college education with about $4,000 towards recruiting and services plus an international student recovery fee of $750 dollar per student to the government.

"There isn't a huge surplus relating to international revenue at Cambrian and the most difficult part is that all of our services we have at Cambrian are available for all of our students. So that's one critical point," says Morrissey. "The second point that I would add is that we don't receive any government funding for international students."

The driving force behind internationalizing the campus at Cambrian is to bring the world to Sudbury to  provide a better experience for all students, says Morrissey.

"The money follows that," she says. "I would say it's secondary or an indirect benefit. With the additional funds, what we're seeing the value in is that Cambrian is building its enrollment base, so we will this year, at some point, hit 5.000 students enrolled, probably the highest enrollment we've seen in the past 10 years, and what that allows us to do is add programs and be more competitive in the marketplace."
Gurpreet Singh Broca came to Sudbury to study at Cambrian College. He works as a financial advisor. (Supplied)

Some international students still question the high cost of the education at post-secondary schools in Sudbury.

Gurpreet Singh Broca is a graduate and is a former president of the International Students Association at Cambrian College.

 He came to Cambrian to study finance in 2013 from a community near Amritsar in the Punjab.

Just because you're from a distant land should not mean that you have to pay more."  - Gurpreet Singh, Cambrian graduate

Now working as a financial advisor in a bank, he is clear that he doesn't think the high tuition is fair.  

"In terms of getting the amount of education it is the same," he says. "It's no more different than what you're studying to what another domestic student might be studying. You are getting the same amount of education. You're getting the same number of hours of study. You're getting the same amount of assignments. So the workload and the environment is the same. The only difference it the monetary difference. Just because you're from a distant land should not mean that you have to pay more."    

International students also say they have a hard time supporting themselves because the government limits them working to 20 hours a week

 Navneet Kaur Sidhu is from Chandigarh in northern India.

Navneet Kaur Sidhu came to Cambrian to study in 2013. She met her future husband, Cambrian graduate Gupreet Singh in Sudbury. The two are pictured in this wedding photo from last year. They both work and make their home in Sudbury. (submitted/Navneet Kaur Sidhu)

She started at Cambrian in 2014

She once asked why the fees were so high

"The explanation we were given at Cambrian was because you'd never lived in Canada and the other students were paying taxes for their whole life." she says. 

"They lived here, so this is all. That's why you (international) guys pay a substantial increased amount of the tuition fees."   

A policy analyst in Ontario says he thinks post-secondary institutions are downplaying the amount of revenue international students bring in.

Alex Usher is president of Higher Education Strategies Associates.

Alex Usher is a policy analyst and president of Higher Education Strategies. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

 Usher says average costs are different than looking at what the cost per student is.

He says marginal costs, for instance, adding a student to a pre-existing class is much lower.

"By giving {the cost} to you on a per student basis they're assuming that the average cost and the marginal cost is the same. And that's the difference. That's the average cost. But adding one extra student, the marginal cost of an extra student, is  almost zero. So you know that's the difference," he says.

"If the international students were genuinely not bringing a financial benefit to the institution, institutions wouldn't be falling over themselves so hard to get them."

That's not to say that Usher thinks a $30,000 tuition is unfair

He says that's still below the average tuition for internationals in the U.S., Australia, UK and New Zealand.

Usher says a Canadian education should be priced at market value.

The question he thinks deserves examination is whether students are getting their money's worth.

"You know,  I'm not convinced that Canadian institutions are necessarily providing particularly good value," says Usher.

"Generally for international students right, they're treated as cash cows. So I think people try to, you know, don't necessarily spend as much time thinking about the international student experience as they should."    

About the Author

Kate Rutherford


Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. She reaches across northern Ontario to connect with people and their stories. She has worked as a journalist in Saint John, N.B and calls Halifax, N.S. home.


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