The International Student Program has seen an evolution over the past eleven years. Early on, there were people within our communities that would have celebrated the MVSD school board removing support for this program. Over time, opinions are changing and stakeholders, including those who attended our Public Pre-Budget Consultation meeting on November 19th, are seeing the value provided by this program. We have welcomed over 1,200 international students and the program has been self-sufficient for the past nine years.
What has changed over the last few years? I asked Mr. Marc Kunza, the Coordinator of International Student Program and Mr. Bart Michaleski, Secretary-Treasurer of MVSD, for their thoughts:
The program began in 2007 and in the initial years, the division relied on attracting short-term students for program exposure and building the MVSD International Student Program brand, with a heavy reliance on one or two countries for student recruitment. In the past few years, we have successfully transitioned to attracting longer-term students, some of whom will spend two to four years with us as they complete their high school education. In addition, we are now welcoming students from up to nine countries. These changes have occurred by developing a reputable program, building a strong network of agents and providing a great experience for students.
The program is predominantly high school based with the greatest number of students attending our two largest high schools in Dauphin and Roblin. Our Homestay Managers have worked hard to build our homestay capacity in our smaller communities so we can place international students in all of our high schools.
3. How has the ISP program helped our students in the different schools?
Introducing international students into our schools has created greater diversity within our schools and an opportunity for our students to learn firsthand about other cultures in various parts of the world. Aside from the educational benefits, students and families have developed lasting friendships since the inception of the program.
We have regularly surveyed teaching staff for the past few years to ensure we are addressing issues requiring attention. Previously, there was concern with the disruption that can occur with a number of short-term students being placed into schools at different times of the year. Teachers were also concerned with a lack of information on the student and the English proficiency level. We have worked hard on information sharing and the transition to longer term students who are here for an education rather than a cultural experience. The ISP students also factor into staffing and instructional budgets that benefit schools. The ISP Coordinator and Homestay Managers have also developed a schedule for visits to all schools and office hours in our two large high schools to provide support at the school level for teachers and students.
Manitoba has a lower rate of study visa approvals than provinces like Ontario and British Columbia. We have had more interest in our program but declined visa applications have prevented some students from coming. This is something the Manitoba Council for International Education is discussing with government officials.
The economic benefit for our communities has been great. Tuition, homestay fees and student personal spending has averaged approximately $870,000 annually. The tuition fees the program receives is 40% of that amount which means the remaining 60% or $520,000 annually is being spent in our communities. The program also supports five positions within the division that would not otherwise be there. The program has been self-sufficient and all funds are generated from outside of the division and province. This program provides a great opportunity to generate local economic benefits to communities that already make critical investments in our education system.
This is an area we need to explore further. Our focus has been on program development, student recruitment and creating a culture of academic success for our international students. As we move forward, we need to engage in discussions with our community partners to discuss the benefits of the program and how we can collectively improve the experience for our students and communities.