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International student enrollment a mixed bag for Manitoba universities

The University of Winnipeg is expecting a 6.4 per cent increase in its international student population this fall. Getty Images

With the fall semester for post-secondary students beginning next week, some international students attending Manitoba universities are preparing to learn virtually from outside the country.

“We sort of expect that most first-year students are going to be staying in their home countries because they’re not going to be able to get here and we’re not encouraging them to come here under the pandemic conditions,” said Colin Russell, registrar at the University of Winnipeg.

“Many of our returning students were here already and stayed here during the past few months, so they will be in the country for their studies.”

But at the University of Manitoba, some incoming freshmen will be leaving their home countries to attend class.

“You can appreciate that some science courses have some part of that course which can’t be adequately taught in a remote manner, so there may be a handful of labs for which students need to be physically here to order to do them,” associate vice-president (partnerships) Jay Doering said.

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Read more: International students struggle to access information amid COVID-19 crisis

Professors at the university are being encouraged to record their lectures to deliver the course in an asynchronous mode, which means students living in time zones far removed from Manitoba are able to learn at an appropriate time for them — and also benefits students in rural areas who may not have strong internet connections.

At the University of Winnipeg, Russell said classes are being offered in different formats and administrators have tried to highlight the various delivery modes so students taking courses from their home countries can pick the right fit for them.

“There are some classes that have live lectures that you’re expected to tune into, so you would need to be available at that time,” Russell said. “There are other courses that are what we call asynchronous, so it’s material that’s posted that you can access at any time, so that would be the most suitable for people who were in a quite different time zone.”

Read more: International students must leave U.S. if classes delivered online, ICE says

The University of Manitoba sent out a survey to its current international students in June asking them what their plans were for the fall term. Doering said 89 per cent of returning students indicated they were planning to take a course this semester.

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Doering said that while overall international student registration is looking slightly lower than normal, it’s too soon to say what kind of impact that may have on the budget.

“I know at the University of Manitoba, the acceptance of new international students, last time I had looked, had not waned at all,” he said. “So we were still getting a very strong response from new international students wishing to study at the University of Manitoba.”

Read more: International students feeling helpless as COVID-19 leaves semester hanging

But while the University of Manitoba is expecting fewer students from abroad taking courses this fall, the University of Winnipeg is seeing the opposite.

“Our headcount is very good in comparison to last year even, so we’re holding our own, I think, with the number of students who have registered and are looking to study with us this fall,” Russell said.

“We have about 1,239 people registered and last year at the same time, 1,160 — so it’s a 6.4 per cent increase.

“We’re pleasantly surprised by the number of students who are enrolled and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to continue with our education of all our students, particularly our international students, under the challenging conditions that we’re all facing.”

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