CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The society representing international students at the University of Prince Edward Island says a recent grant by the federal government should be earmarked for providing on-campus support services to help students succeed.
Last week, the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency, in collaboration with the provincial government, announced grants totalling $1.5 million to support recruitment and retention for international students.
The money would support the Study and Stay program, an initiative that began in Nova Scotia and is geared toward helping students remain in the province after graduation.
UPEI will receive a grant of $932,068 while Holland College will receive $437,175.
But Caroline Simoes Correa, an elected executive member of the UPEI International Student Association, said international students are concerned that a significant amount of the funds will go to the university’s international recruiting department.
“We are concerned that the responsibilities the university has to its current international student population may end up forgotten in the midst of increased recruitment efforts,” Simoes Correa said in a statement e-mailed to The Guardian.
She said the university’s international recruiting efforts have already had significant success, doubling the international student population over the last five years to 1,211. International students pay roughly two-and-a-half times the tuition of domestic students, who are subsidized by taxpayer dollars.
"It's already a very successful department. We just thought that maybe that money could have been spent somewhere else, like for social supports for international students,” Simoes Correa said.
“It could also have been spent on affordable housing. We're in the middle of a housing crisis right now."
- Caroline Simoes Correa
At a funding announcement last week, UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz told The Guardian half the funds received will be used to support the university’s international recruiting efforts, while the other half will support Study and Stay programming.
Abd-El-Aziz said some of the funds would be used to help establish internship programs to connect students with employers in their fields.
“We believe that by introducing the students to companies, government and non-government organizations – employers and so on – that relationship actually allows the students to consider and think of our great province, if they would like to stay here," Abd-El-Aziz said following the announcement.
Abd-El-Aziz said several consultations about the use of the funds will be held with students over the next several months.
No international students were present at last week’s announcement.
Simoes Correa said the federal funding, allocated specifically for international students, was a positive sign.
But she said the funds could be used to hire an additional employer liaison officer, a staff member who helps match international students with employers, or to improve the university’s experiential education department.
International students often have difficulty finding long-term employment in P.E.I. after graduating.
According to research by University of Western Ontario associate professor Michael Haan, between 2013 and 2015, only 15.4 per cent of international students settled permanently in P.E.I. after graduating.
Simoes Correa believes international students, whose tuition dollars contribute significantly to the UPEI budget, have also brought increased diversity to the campus, and to the Charlottetown community.
"A lot of us have come from very far destinations. So, to be here is already a challenge,” she said. “We just hope that the university can grow in population but also grow in support.”