Of Cape Breton University’s 3,300 students, 1,400 have come to Canada to study from other countries. With more than 30% of the student body coming from outside of Canada, CBU is one of the most international of all Canadian campuses – a successful element of campus life that the university aspires to grow further in the years to come.
In 2012, the federal government announced it wanted to double the number of foreign students in Canada by 2022 - to nearly half a million. Cape Breton has likewise identified international students as integral to its future. Cape Breton University is the critical pathway to making this possible.
International students and graduates in Cape Breton are struggling, however, to connect with employment and business and/or investment opportunities relevant to their education and aspirations. They often struggle as well to connect to the Island socially and culturally. AS they near graduation and after graduation, they grow out of supports available to them at Cape Breton University and yet do not qualify for support from either provincially-funded settlement centre at a critical time in their life in Canada.
Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration Retention Initiative
As we continue to learn about the extent Cape Breton’s population crisis and our urgent need for substantially increased immigration, it becomes more and more clear that the right here in our community we have a world-class institution putting a lot of thought, time, money and other resources into bringing very bright, very energetic young people to our Island – hundreds of students every year, many of whom want to make Canada their home.
Amid our urgent need for immigration, is this incredible gift that we, as a community, don’t always recognize and maximize. Our immigration challenges would be much greater than they already are if it wasn’t for CBU.
This project was borne out of a desire to, as the community, respond to the gift that CBU is offering – the hundreds of outstanding students that they bring to our doorstep every year. We asked ourselves – what can we be doing as a community to welcome, settle, and really encourage these students to think about Cape Breton as their future home. Our response to this question broadly includes:
- A more concerted effort to connect to international students and to connect students – socially, culturally, and via employment and business opportunities – to the Island
- An effort to increase retention by connecting students during and after their studies to all five regions of the Island – to share with them and their families the employment, business, social, recreational, and political opportunities available to them here.
- Focused efforts to connect students with pre-existing services, organizations, agencies, and events as clients, participants, volunteers, board members, and employees. The programming and services offered by organizations in the community are top-notch and engaging more international students and graduates in these offerings better connects them to the Island, its people, and its opportunities.
The Importance of Students, Graduates and Retention
International students are a huge resource. As consumers, they are economic drivers in their time as students.
In a recent study prepared for the Atlantic Council of Ministers of Education and Training, a study looking at the impact of international students in Atlantic Canada noted that the total spending for international students at universities and colleges in Atlantic Canada is $478 million with a student average of $34,188 per year.
If we adapt these numbers to just the 1400 international students studying at CBU, they are spending $47 million every year here on the Island.
As students, they begin to become members of the community. They work here, shop here, volunteer here, make friends here.
As graduates they are young, educated, and come with very diverse perspectives, education, connections, and aspirations. If we can increase the number of students building lives here after graduation, we get to retain all the gifts that they bring with them.
The Next Two Years
We have a proposed schedule of activities and initiatives that we believe will help students and graduates better understand the different communities on the Island and what they have to offer in terms of employment opportunities, business opportunities, lifestyle and recreation.
We really want to give communities a chance to shine and to promote their unique assets and qualities to students. Some of the components of the project include:
- Surveys of international students to identify their background, needs, aspirations, concerns, and their intention to stay and to update 2015 CBU Urban-Rural Immigration Task Force Study.
- Day tours of (1) Victoria County (2) Inverness County and (3) Richmond County/Port Hawkesbury. We’d like interested students to meet with the Mayors/Wardens and Councils, to meet with the economic development officers in these counties, to tour businesses, to try some of the recreational offerings, to get a real feel for these parts of the Island and the opportunities they offer.
- Graduation Event for International Students and Their Families/Visiting Guests: to share with students and particularly their guests – their parents and families – the opportunities that the Island has to offer both from a tourism/visitor perspective and from a business development perspective.
- Luncheons with interested Councillors from the CBRM Council, local MLAs and MPs, representatives from our Mi’kmaq communities, the Partnership, and the Chamber of Commerce to give the students a chance to spend some quality time with these dignitaries and get their perspective on life here. in the CBRM
- Working with existing service providers and agencies we’ll design and deliver employment readiness workshops for students over the next year to help them connect with the types of employment they are most looking for.
- Our Centre will also serve as a drop-in space that can offer one-on-one assistance with whatever students and graduates might be looking for – off-campus housing, volunteer placements, starting a business, making more social connections, and so on.
All of this is subject to the feedback from students and graduates and to what we learn along the way. We have an idea about what students and graduates might need and want, but as we talk with them, spend time with them, seek feedback from them, we’ll change our course to be of greatest service to them and to increase our chances of success – of increasing graduate retention.
Hello Cape Breton
This initiative also includes the organizing and hosting of a community-wide multicultural festival. One that will recognize and celebrate the longstanding and growing increasing diversity that makes up the CBRM. This will be an annual downtown festival that brings new and old cultures and the local community together and makes our international students, newcomers, and Syrian refugee families feel seen and valued here.
Hello Cape Breton is being guided by an Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from CBU, CBRM, the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration, international students and other newcomers, and Mi'kmaq representatives.
The festival is scheduled to take place on Sunday November 4th from 12:00-9:00 at the Joan Harris Cruise Pavilion. Much more on this to come ... stay tuned!
If you are an international student or graduate we would love to hear from you! If you are a long-time resident of the Island, someone looking to volunteer and connect with others in the field of immigration, we would love to hear from you! Are you interested in the Hello Cape Breton Festival as a performer, vendor or participant? You can reach us in a number of ways.
The Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration is housed in the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation at 37 Nepean Street in Sydney. We are open Monday to Friday from 9:00-5:00. You can reach us by phone at 902-270-5772. You can reach our Retention Coordinator and Festival Coordinator by e-mail at:
Event and Engagement Coordinator