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Alberta students plea for representation on new $1m education bureau

Alberta’s government will spend CAN$1 million on establishing a new bureau focused on boosting the number of international students in the Canadian province. 

Alberta’s government will spend CAN$1 million on the establishment of a new international education bureau. Photo: Unsplash.

Student groups in the region have called for their voices to be included in the bureau

Announced on October 3, the regional government said the new not-for-profit will “showcase the innovation and strength of our post-secondary system”, including polytechnic institutions and colleges, and will foster international learning opportunities for students from Alberta. 

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology is set to lead the establishment of the Alberta Bureau for International Education, which will include representatives from post-secondary institutions and industry stakeholders. 

“Some early goals identified will focus on increasing diversity in the countries sought for student recruitment, further support for our international learners, growing international capacity in rural or smaller institutions, increasing education abroad opportunities for Albertans and building support around international learning or internship opportunities,” said Mark Butler, vice president of corporate development, applied research and international at SAIT.

But student groups in the region have called for their voices to be included in the bureau. The Council of Alberta University Students, an umbrella organisation for Alberta’s student unions, released a statement on October 4 saying it is “concerned with the lack of student representation in this bureau, particularly as we receive increased reports of international students struggling on our campuses”. 

Samantha Scott, chair of CAUS, told The PIE News that the organisation ‘appreciates’ efforts to attract new international students but that there should also be a focus on retention.  

“Right now, the international students already in Alberta need additional support. So a large part of attracting international students is the quality of life that they can expect while studying here and we’re hoping that we will see an investment from the government of supports that reflect this,” Scott said.

“With international student representation on the bureau, policymakers would have the opportunity to hear directly from students themselves”

CAUS highlighted food insecurity and housing shortages as key concerns for international students. Since it released the statement, the Canadian government has announced that it temporarily will lift the 20-hour cap on student working hours.

“With international student representation on the bureau, policymakers would have the opportunity to hear directly from students themselves, which we hope would guide policy to help ensure that international students have the best possible experience,” Scott added.

Butler responded that the initial focus of the bureau “is aimed at engaging with post-secondary institutional staff, while the working group looks at expanding representation within stakeholder groups”.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education, a non-governmental membership organisation, said it welcomed the news and “looks forward to collaborating with this new provincial partner”.

“We know from our 2021 International Student Survey that students who intend to stay in Canada after graduation very often continue to reside in the province where they studied,” said a CBIE spokesperson.

“The creation of ABIE is a strong signal that the province is committed to supporting international students in their endeavours, fostering inclusive environments on campus and bolstering connections within the wider community to encourage this student population to call Alberta home.”

The investment is part of Alberta’s international education strategy launched in June 2020, which committed to investing a total of $1.5 million in the sector and highlights the importance of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions in strengthening the region’s workforce. 

Alberta was home to over 25,000 international students in 2018/19, an increase of 35% since 2014/15.  

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