Why do international students choose Canada?






arrow-redCarlos Cedeño (left) and friend during Canada Day 2013. Photo © Carlos Cedeño

By Ali Rodriquez

OTTAWA — At the beginning of 2014, the federal government announced plans to double the number of international students in campuses across the country to 450,000 by 2022.

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Although met with mixed reviews, the plan makes sense for a government that places so much emphasis on the national economy. Canadian full-time students pay around $6,000 to $8,000 a year for their undergraduate studies while their international counterparts pay around $20,000 a year.

Jim Flaherty, former Minister of Finance, once said, “This plan is rooted in Canada’s already strong economic leadership on the world stage and is further proof of the expertise and capabilities Canadians have to offer.”

In an official statement he also highlighted the “government’s focus on creating jobs and opportunities and our commitment to return to balanced budgets in the short term. By making the right investments and working with the right partners, we will create thousands of new jobs and add billions of dollars to our economy over the long term.”

As for students themselves, they can end up paying $32,000 per year of university, including rent, according to government statistics. With increasingly high tuition fees, why are international students choosing Canada as the place to pursue their higher education goals?

For many, due to the situation back home, they see a Canada as a fresh start.

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“I can’t and won’t go back to my country,” says Carlos Cedeño, a Venezuelan student at Algonquin College in Ottawa.

Cedeño is part of a growing Venezuelan diaspora who say that they are afraid to go back to their country. He arrived here two years ago after graduating high school in what he calls a “country in chaos.”

“Because of a government that’s fixated on promoting a fake socialist agenda instead of creating solutions, we suffer not only shortages of basic products like milk, oil, toilet paper, but we also lack basic rights like judicial and moral security because the government controls everything.”

“People here complain about the cold weather, but every time I’m able to walk around the city at night without the risk of getting murdered, I’m already having a better time than back home.” – Carlos Cedeño

Last year Venezuelan expatriates demonstrated against the government in numerous cities around the world. The opposition protested back home after a presidential election and the opposition lost by less than two per cent of the vote.

Venezuela also suffers from horrific crime and murder rates. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s report, the South American country has the second highest murder rate in the world, only behind Honduras.

“People here complain about the cold weather, but every time I’m able to walk around the city at night without the risk of getting murdered, I’m already having a better time than back home,” says Cedeño, adding that although it’s a big investment, he sees a better life for himself and his family in Canada.

Although not everyone has a statistical high chance of being murdered in their native countries, discontent with the motherland appears to be a common reason for young adults to come study in Canada.

Maissa Hassan is a 21-year-old Bangladeshi student at University of British Columbia. She grew up in Saudi Arabia where she attended American international schools. During holidays, she would visit family in Bangladesh.

“Yes, those places are as conservative as you think,” says Hassan. “But that didn’t matter to me while I was in middle school and high school.” She explains that international schools are almost their own states in that “Western values” are respected and there are no second-class citizens. However, Hassan says that “once you graduate, you have to be part of the real world” and the Middle East doesn’t have the liberties she values as a woman with Western ideas.

“There’s not that much official sexism and don’t get me wrong, I’m not a girl that likes to go, say, ‘wild,’” she says. “But I’d like to be able to wear a skirt without people thinking it’s haram (the Arabic word for ‘sinful’ or ‘prohibited’).

“After looking at my options, Canada’s societal values made sense for me,” she says.

Soaring crime rates and conservative religious states aside, many come to Canada for the education system. The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia measured the quality universities in the world and 32 Canadian universities are among the top 1,000 schools, with 3 in the top 100: The University of Toronto; McGill University; and The University of British Columbia. Besides quality of education, Canadian tuition fees attract a lot of students looking to study in North America.

Paying for School

Twenty-two-year old Eric Oldale, an American student at Carleton University. Originally from Maryland, when the time came to apply to universities, he realized that he couldn’t afford the universities he wanted in the States.

“To begin with, all Canadian nationals, no matter what province they’re from, pay local tuition, but in the States you only pay normal tuition if you’re from the state the university is in,” says Oldale. The American school system has two types of tuition, in-state and out-of-state, and out-state-tuition can be as high as $50,000 per year. For example, University of Chicago students pay $48,253 for one year of tuition, and there’s no distinction for in-state and out-of-state. However, at the University of Florida, out-of-state tuition is $28,591 per year and in-state tuition is $6,313 (Check out the U.S. News National University Rankings to see tuition fees at the top American universities).

“Some universities don’t even have the distinction, so even if you’re a local, you’re paying around $40,000 for tuition only. I can’t afford that, that’s why I came to Canada,” says Oldale.

Oldale says that he goes back home as often as he can, as does Hassan. But Cedeño and many others aren’t looking back and are staying here for the long run.

“It’s a big investment and I feel a bit guilty for my parents,” he says “but this is a bet worth taking.”

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