The Numbers
The Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) yesterday released its preliminary enrollment numbers. Overall, the AAU survey reveals a 0.5% increase in total enrolment (part-time and full-time). The Universities with the most notable growth are Acadia (7.5%), Cape Breton University (5.6%), and Saint Mary’s University (4%).Taken as a whole, the entire university system is growing, if slowly.

International students’ pivotal role in the Nova Scotia PSE system is the most significant revelation in the survey. The increase in international students this year is 40% larger than the overall increase in full-time students, meaning that full-time domestic enrolment has fallen and so would total full-time enrolment without international students. Overall, Nova Scotia universities are seeing a 12.4% increase to 6287 full-time visa students, equal to 16.5% of full-time enrolment. This is an ongoing change; international student enrolment increased by 148% between 2000 and 2011.

The campuses with the most significant growth in international students are the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (31%), CBU (17.7%), SMU (17.2%), Mount Saint Vincent University (16%) and Acadia (13.3%). International students represent 90% of total full-time enrolment growth at CBU, 99% at SMU, and a whopping 197% at MSVU, such that MSVU’s full-time enrollment would decrease by 3% without these students.

The 6287 of visa students at Nova Scotia universities in 2012-13 is equal to 53% of the total number of Nova Scotia’s external migrants recorded in the last census (StatsCan, 2009), which indicates the international students’ importance for immigration if some can be persuaded to stay, and also in fostering diversity in our province.

Myth
International students are taking away seats from domestic students.

Reality
While the number of international students at Nova Scotia Universities is increasing significantly, these students are not taking seats away from domestic students. In fact, the key demographic historically for university enrolment, the cohort aged 17 to 29, is set to shrink in Nova Scotia by approximately 42,000 (or 27%) between 2010 and 2030. Whereas 90% of government funding to universities is distributed based on enrolment, while tuition revenue is the next most important source of revenue, universities currently have an overwhelming incentive to accept whichever qualified students apply. There is not a limited number of seats that can be given to domestic or international students, universities adapt their programmes to meet demand for seats.

Myth
International students are placing a burden on the PSE system in Nova Scotia by taking resources from domestic students.

Reality
Studies show each international student contributes three-times more economic benefit than costs on our government, or $231 million per year. International students pay the full cost of their education in the form of a differential fee intended to offset the contribution that government makes to funding domestic students. While there is provincial funding for these students, that funding is only provided for international students in the first to 10th percentile of undergraduate enrolment and 30th percentile of graduate student enrolment. This means that international students do not provide vastly superior funding to their university, and some part of the funding they provide is required to offset greater costs for international student services and recruitment. International students actually bring new money into the university system, though they should not be relied upon to subsidize their domestic counterparts.

Myth
Increased international student enrolment can only be a good thing for Nova Scotia and our universities.

Reality
Nova Scotia needs to not only pay attention to the numbers of international students in our province, but also to the quality of education these students receive. International students are adapting to a new environment, to a new culture, and often to a new language. Universities must, therefore, provide students with services that support their academic success and foster inclusion in the our communities. They must ensure transparency and fairness in costs so that students do not feel exploited. They must also guarantee that all students entering our institutions already meet basic requirements and are adequately prepared for a university environment. If we fail in ensuring quality, we will fail our international students who are investing significantly in Nova Scotia, and fail the domestic students who are learning alongside them. International students who have poor experiences will be unlikely to stay here once they graduate.

International students are an important part of the Nova Scotia student body and essential to the future of our post-secondary system. StudentNS’ is developing a Position Paper on International Students in consultation with international students and other students on campuses across the province, for completion in April 2013.