Int’l students generate big bucks for Canada but struggle to make ends meet

Having generated $6.5 billion for the Canadian economy in 2008, the biggest issue for international students today is managing their own finances, says Aisyah Abdkahar, UMSU international student representative.

“The main issue for all international students is the money, because money is something that they can’t control. When it comes to your personal life or your personal struggles, we have people who can do something about it, but not money,” said Abdkahar.

Abdkahar explained that many international students choose to come to school in Winnipeg because recruiters tell potential students the cost of living is inexpensive.

“They get told that Winnipeg is a cheap place to live and I would completely agree — five years ago,” said Abdkahar, referring to the steady increase in differential fees charged to international students since 2002. According to a report conducted by the Canadian Federation of Students, tuition rates for international students within Manitoba have gone up from $6,540 in 2005-06 to $9,156 in 2008-09.

“A lot of students have just been impacted by the rate of increase, which most students find unexpected and hard to deal with, because we are not talking about $100 or maybe $200 dollars a year, we’re talking about thousands of dollars in increases,” said Abdkahar.

Abdkahar pointed out that many students budget themselves for the entire four years they expect to be attending university, only to find they can’t keep up with the rate of increase.

While fee increases are often blamed as the cause of international students’ money woes, director of the International Centre for Students (ICS), Tony Rogge, believes they may be blamed too often.

“I think we fixate a lot on tuition issues and obviously it makes a lot of nice political sense to talk about differentials. There’s just a lot more issues that I’m hearing about that are making it difficult to be here,” said Rogge.

Rogge explained that often students have a difficult time receiving the money they need from their sponsors in their home country to pay their fees.

“Oftentimes, because of their finances at home, the biggest [ . . . ] complaint that I’ve heard from students that I’ve met facing financial difficulty [ . . . is that] their sponsors at home are feeling the pinch and can’t send the money to them,” said Rogge.

“That’s what I hear from students.”

Rogge also said the ICS does not get involved in financing of education.

“In emergency situations they can go to financial aid and awards, but the bottom line is, even in cases of emergencies, there’s really no one place a student can go and receive substantial sums of money to cover large shortfalls.”

A recent study conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada revealed that international students generated $6.5 billion for Canada’s economy in 2008.
The report also states that the number of international students has doubled since 1998, to 178,000, creating employment for 83,000 Canadians last year.

“As indicated in this report, we are seeing positive results and that’s why our government will continue its efforts to promote Canada as the destination of choice for foreign students by enhancing outreach efforts at our missions around the world,” said Laura Dalby, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

“International students studying in Canada experience our country first hand, gain a better understanding of Canadian society and values [and] develop a network of friends and contacts that they can turn to in their professional career,” said Dalby.

“They return home, engrained by Canadian values and as potential future partners in trade, political relations and global leadership.”

Abdkahar said these all are positive things, “but the fact still remains that they’re still overcharging students just to come and study.”