The impact of international students on Canada’s top island
Cape Breton Island is renowned for its natural beauty and hospitality, home to the famous Cabot Trail with beautiful natural vistas and beaches.
Located on the Atlantic Coast in Canada, Unama’ki was home to the Mi’kmaq before colonisation by the English and French through the 15th – 18th Centuries, followed by 19th Century Industrialisation and continued immigration mostly from Europe, the Caribbean, and various parts for the world.
From colonization to industrialisation, Cape Breton has remained a working-class economy, and with the closure of the coal mines and steel mill, it fell into a long period of economic decline, with many families leaving the island for work opportunities abroad, mostly in Western Canada. In fact, every year since 1961, there were fewer people living on the island.
Cape Breton University, originally named the University College of Cape Breton, was established in 1974 to serve the local and Nova Scotian population through higher education, preparing graduates for opportunities beyond the already shrinking local industries. By 2014, if Cape Breton University were to recruit 100% of the local high school graduates, it would continue a downward enrolment trend.
Thus, internationalisation was an existential necessity for the island’s sole university.
CBU set out on an ambitious recruitment strategy, and by 2018 observed record number of international students arriving to seek higher education. With the university’s success in attracting thousands of international students from over 80 countries, it has had a transformative impact on Cape Breton Island.
The population saw its first increase in over 40 years through the recruitment of students and retention of graduates. But even with the present influx of newcomers, the island is barely increasing the population due to negative growth in the Natural Change (births/deaths).
Recruitment success comes with growing pains, especially for a region unaccustomed to rapid growth.
“As of 2023, international students bring more than $300 million annual economic impact for the local community”
Like many jurisdictions across Canada, there are strains on housing, public infrastructure, facilities and services. There is a consistent critical eye fixed on CBU’s enrolment, both locally and nationally. It is true, there are struggles, but there are also great successes and more to celebrate on the horizon.
As of 2023, international students bring more than $300 million annual economic impact for the local community. Newcomers open shops, restaurants and service providers of all types; they work in every space from mom & pop shops, social enterprises, national brands, banks and the public service. Not to mention the unquantifiable wealth of cultural diversity heretofore unobserved through Cape Breton’s history.
It is not an opportunity that we will allow to pass us by. This is why CBU is investing in Cape Breton’s success. Some example of CBU’s past, current, and planned investments include:
- providing the local municipality with new buses
- completed campus residence renovations adding 111 new beds and communal kitchens
- engaged in renovations to expand our health and counselling services, fitness facilities, ice hockey arena
- partnered with Nova Scotia Health to open a Newcomer Primary Care Clinic
- Partnered with Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to address labour shortages by purchasing four (4) vans to drive students to and from jobs across the island
- Implemented an Agent Code of Conduct
- Announced plans to build a new on-campus residence by 2025
- Plans to build a new Centre for Discovery and Innovation
- Launched a new Bachelor of Social Work degree
- Increased focus on welcoming more Canadian students
- Announced the creation of a new Medial Campus opening in 2025
I have a friend who likes to say that Cape Bretoners are great, but they don’t like two things: change and the way things are. I like to think that, when we look back on this time in Cape Breton in 10 years, we’re going to like the way things changed.
About the author: This is a sponsored article by Victor Tomiczek, director, International Recruitment and Global Partnerships at Cape Breton University.
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