International students boost Windsor region's schools, economy

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell & Carolyn Thompson

Published on: January 1, 2016 | Last Updated: January 4, 2016 10:37 AM EST

International student Amrit Duggal has plans once he finishes his master of engineering degree at the University of Windsor: find a job, become a permanent resident and build a home in Canada.

He’s one of many graduates of the D.A.V. Institute of Engineering and Technology in Jalandhar, a city in north India, who apply to study in Windsor. The small city size, lack of traffic, safe community and engineering program’s reputation offer a great appeal.

“If I get a job in my field, then I’ll definitely stay here,” Duggal said, just days after arriving in the city.

Educating international students has become one of Windsor’s major areas of growth, a trend with short-term and long-term payoffs that some see as an area of untapped economic potential.

At the University of Windsor 3,015 foreign students from 90 countries make up 20 per cent of the population on campus and pay an equal proportion of the school’s operating budget. It ranks among the most diverse universities in Ontario, where on average 11 per cent of the student population is from abroad.

“If suddenly all the non-resident, international people left the University of Windsor it would be same if they all left Canada. There’d be a huge impact,” said president Alan Wildeman.

Since 2010, the proportion of graduate students classified as international has jumped from 29 per cent to 54 per cent. International undergraduate students have risen from 7.4 per cent to 9.3 per cent of the total student body.

Interest in the school’s master’s programs, particularly in the areas of engineering and business management, along with its Cross Border Institute, has surged.

Some international students, like PhD candidate Danilo Corral, bring with them new ideas and innovation. He’s researching a new wireless technology to help in emergency and disaster communications, partnering with two universities in Europe and a research group at a university in his native Ecuador.

Corral arrived two months ago with his wife and children after choosing between Australia, Portugal or Canada. He settled on Windsor after research into reputation, language and cost of living.

“It’s incredible. I tell people in Ecuador that Windsor is a city that really has services to welcome people from far away,” his wife, Claudia Campo, said in Spanish. “I feel comfortable here.”

Although Corral and his family plan to return to Ecuador, international student adviser Enrique Chacon said students like him bring an economic and academic boost to the campus — and the city.

The growing number of international students is quietly transforming campuses, Wildeman said.

A similar transformation on a smaller scale is taking hold at St. Clair College and local high schools.

There are 509 international students on the college’s main campus, 44 at the Thames campus, 760 enrolled in licensed overseas programs in six different countries and another 224 are attending St. Clair’s school for international students in Toronto. St. Clair is also working on replicating its Toronto operations in Vancouver and Montreal.

In addition, the college is contracted to run programs for government agencies and corporations in several countries, including English-language training for the Panamanian police force.

“Not all of our international students are on campus, but international education brings $10 million in revenue back to Windsor annually,” said Ron Seguin, St. Clair’s vice-president of international relations, training and campus development.

“International education has spiked for us. Our international footprint is expanding rapidly. I think there are endless opportunities for global education,” he said.

International students’ tuition at the college is $12,000-$13,000 annually, while tuition at the university varies from $19,000 (arts and humanities) to $27,580 (law). Combined, Windsor’s two post-secondary institutions directly receive $60 million from international education, but that’s just the start.

Immigration and Citizenship Canada estimates each student spends another $20,000 annually on things like housing, food, recreation in addition to their tuition, said Peter Bondy, St. Clair’s director of international education and government relations.

The economic spinoff doesn’t stop there.

“We have hundreds of skilled jobs unfilled for months and month,” said Matt Marchand, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has been working on strategies to tap into immigration as a way to fill that void.

At the Windsor company Suntrition, which produces natural supplements, former international student Denis Zhu was recently hired in quality assurance.

Gordon Moore, president of Acenzia, Suntrition’s parent company, said international students he’s worked with are highly skilled, often at the top of the class and have a strong work ethic. His company deals with students through partnerships at the university and during co-op placements.

Moore is working with the chamber of commerce on strategies to help recruit immigrant investors and international students for economic growth.

“It can also help with succession planning,” he said, since many smaller companies are struggling to find young Canadian workers who want to take over their businesses.

It can still be difficult, however, for international students to connect with employers in the region. They aren’t eligible for many employment programs that help Canadians, immigrants and refugees find work, said Michelle Suchiu, community connector with Workforce WindsorEssex.

Sam Egberipou, a 28-year-old Nigerian student finishing his masters in electrical and computer engineering in Windsor, said he’s applied but failed to land co-op spots in Canada.

Some employers are reluctant to take a risk on international students. Many end up with minimum wage jobs or having to move far from Windsor to find work.

“We put our life into this,” said Egberipou, who has paid about $60,000 in tuition. “It makes me think, ‘How long will I have to prove myself to become something I desire to be?’”

Nigeria, China, India and Pakistan are the major sources of foreign students for both the university and college.

Increasingly, families are playing the long game when it comes to educating their children overseas with an eye on obtaining permanent residence.

“They see it as an incredible opportunity for their children,” said Vicki Houston, a superintendent of education overseeing the Greater Essex County District School Board’s international education program. The board launched its international education program in September with 35 students, but will have 41 to start the second semester in February.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, which started its international program five years ago, had 90 international students enrolled for this fall.

The two boards charge about $12,000 tuition per student or the equivalent of what the government grant would be for a domestic student. Students also pay $725 to $850 per month for room and board and nearly another $1,000 annually for medical insurance, activity and application fees.

Opening the doors to students from abroad is also raising the region’s profile in other areas, said Cathy Geml, associate director of education for the Catholic board. The foreign recruiters are frequently entrepreneurs and decision makers in their own countries.

“We had a Chinese delegation here that was very interested in our greenhouses, construction and manufacturing industries,” Geml said. “They looked at the whole area. It sparked some interest and they go back and tell what they saw.”

Officials from area school boards, the college, university and the city held meetings in the fall to develop a common strategy.

“It’s an attempt to draw as much attention to Windsor-Essex as possible,” said Geml, who added having international students helps offset the costs of declining enrolment for the boards.

“It doesn’t matter who gets the student. If an international student comes to the city, we all win,” she said.

Trend across Canada

• In the early 1990s, an average of 31,000 international students were issued a first-time study permit annually to come to Canada. By 2013, that had risen to 96,000 per year.

• In the past 10 years, there’s also been a steady rise in the number of students hoping to stay as permanent residents.

• Of the 2000-2005 cohort of international students in Canadian universities, 49 per cent of graduate students and 32 per cent of undergraduates obtained permanent residence.