The 2022-23 Preliminary Survey of Enrolments by the group representing 16 universities across the region found that full‐time visa students had increased by almost 3,000 new students in the latest academic year.
Strong growth in international student recruitment is continuing to play a “significant role” in driving total enrolment increases, AAU noted. While international students are up 15.5%, domestic enrolments have fallen by some 2.6%, Higher Education Strategy Associates noted.
Total full‐time undergraduate and graduate enrolments grew from 79,250 to 81,506 (nearly 3%) and a 621 increase in full‐time graduate students to 11,553 (5.7%). International students, in turn, represent the group with the biggest growth.
The changes in enrolments come after expected declines following the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020/21.
“Consistent year-over-year enrolment growth is evidence that our collective commitment to programs, policies and partnerships that position students at the core of each AAU member university’s mission is widely understood by students and their families,” AAU chair and president and vice‐chancellor of St. Thomas University, Dawn Russell, said in a statement.
“The message is getting out internationally, nationally, and regionally, that Atlantic Canadian campuses are welcoming, safe and secure.
“Growing internationalisation of our campuses and communities demonstrates the strong connection between our universities and successful regional and provincial population growth strategies.”
The preliminary findings showed that University of Prince Edward Island increased its international student cohort by 7% to reach 1,703 visa student and Memorial University of Newfoundland rose by 15.7% to 4,338.
All four institutions in New Brunswick reported increases in visa students, led by Université de Moncton’s 31.2% increase, which was equivalent to 332 more students. A 22.7% rise of 369 students was also seen at the University of New Brunswick. In total the province reported a total of 3,907 visa students.
Nova Scotia’s 10 institutions recorded a 14.5% increase, reaching 11,864 visa students in this academic year.
Saint Mary’s University in Halifax saw a decline of 207 visa students in 2022/23, a fall of 11.5%. Dalhousie University increased its visa students by 3.7% to reach 4,553.
“Our universities here are working very hard at creating, very welcoming, safe and secure campuses”
However, the biggest increase was the 67.6% visa student rise at Cape Breton University. The institution in Sydney, Canada, has enrolled 3,952 visa students this year, an increase of 1,594.
Executive director of AAU, Peter Halpin, highlighted that the overall findings reflect the commitment of the region’s universities to international students.
“They’re all already very student centred, of course. But, you know, all of our universities here are working very hard at creating very welcoming, safe and secure campuses, which has a lot of appeal, especially to international students and their families.
“I think that that’s a big contributing factor to our success in the international student marketplace.”
In a blog, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, Alex Usher, noted that the increase in visa students at Université de Moncton, along with a 32.3% rise at Université Sainte-Anne to hit 164 full-time visa students is “a huge reversal from a few years ago when Francophone institutions lagged Anglophone ones”.
International students are – unexpectedly – going to be the salvation of minority Francophone institutions in Canada, Usher suggested.
But the full-time visa students make up two-thirds of the entire student body at Cape Breton was the key talking point, he continued.
The 1,600 rise at CBU is equivalent to about $29 million in additional fees, Usher calculated. “On an existing budget of $89 million, [there is] not much doubt about the incentives at play here,” he said.
Regarding demographics in Canada, there is going to be significant growth in the 18 to 25 year old age cohort in the years ahead, Halpin told The PIE, pointing to HESA analysis.
“[That] augurs really well for the steady growth of our ability to attract students from outside of Atlantic Canada,” he said.
The region has “historic challenges” in attracting and retaining new immigrants, Halpin continued.
“What’s really happening in Atlantic Canada… one of the challenges we face is historically, Atlantic Canada has been really challenged to attract and retain new immigrants. Now, that has started to change in the last couple of years.”
President and CEO of EduNova, Shawna Garrett, reminded that the organisation is working hard to both retain and recruit international students to Nova Scotia.
Retention initiatives include the post-graduation immigration support program providing free-of-charge instructional information on immigration programs and personalised immigration coaching, and the EduNova Study and Stay CONNECT Program aiming to retain at least 80% of participating students one-year post-graduation.
Additionally, the seventh cohort of EduNova’s Study and Stay – Nova Scotia Capstone Program and Retreat is welcoming 97 international students to learn about career strategy, immigration pathways, intercultural development, and networking.
The organisation is also driving ahead with recruitment initiatives, such as the Agent Training Program which has been attended by 32 agencies in the first cohort. Nova Scotia is just the second province in Canada to undertake such a training program, Garrett noted.
Other initiatives include the Discover Nova Scotia student resource hub, specialist staff training programs, virtual events in China, Bangladesh and Abu Dhabi during November and South Asia in December, along with Fam Tours.
Additionally, EduNova is in the final stages of completing the Atlantic Marketing Brand, with a social media campaign focused on Vietnam and French-speaking countries. A digital document will also demonstrate the “incredible depth and breadth of study and student support options available in the province”.
“We have the most rapidly ageing population in the entire country”
“We have the most rapidly ageing population in the entire country, so it is imperative for Atlantic Canada to attract young people,” Halpin added.
“AAU has succeeded in persuading governments at all levels, business and industry and community leaders that the universities, and our ability to attract international students is the best source of new immigrants for Atlantic Canada.”
The Atlantic Immigration Program has been effective in this regard, he suggested. The fact that the federal minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, is from Nova Scotia, is also a boon for the +65% of international students who want to stay after graduation have a pathway to residency in the province, he suggested.
“We’re working very closely with [the minister and his department] on some of the challenges concerning attraction and retention of international students,” he concluded.
“The internationalisation of our campuses and the communities in which they’re located is really important to the future of the region.”