cape breton

Cape Breton University

Canada’s Showpiece for International Student Communities

By Elizabeth Francisco, MSM staff writer

At a glance

From declining enrollment to tripling their international students in just under five years, Cape Breton University (CBU) emerges as a model for reinvigorating not just its campus community but also the local economy.

Formerly known as University College of Cape Breton, CBU is the only postsecondary degree-granting institution on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. It serves more than 5,500 full-time and part-time students from 40 different countries.

CBU offers a comprehensive set of liberal arts, science, business, health and professional programs. It is also the first energy self-sufficient campus in North America.

Up until the past half decade, student enrollments were dropping at the public institution, largely due to the aging local population. With partners like MSM and the growth ambitions under the Honourable David Dingwall, a former federal health minister and CBU President since 2017, the institution managed to turn itself around and become one of the biggest success stories in international education in Canada, if not worldwide.

Passing the 50% Foreign Student Threshold

In 2016, MSM began to build CBU’s global/in-country office and provide admissions support to help them boost international student recruitment in India, already a high-growth market then. From there, MSM has delivered a 390% annual average increase in international students to the institution.

The original goal of CBU involved increasing international student enrollment to 3,500 students. Yet under the leadership of Dingwall, they far exceeded that objective and now have roughly 5,500 students.

Within 24 months, international students tripled and became the “super-majority,” making up two-thirds of all students. This made CBU the first institution in Canada to surpass the 50 percent foreign-student ratio threshold. Not even those with the highest foreign student population could reach that mark, with most institutions within the 30 percent range.

CBU made waves as it grew its undergraduate populations by more than 44 percent between school years 2017 and 2018, the largest in Nova Scotia. From under 800 students in 2016, they accepted over 3,400 in 2019.

“This growth is consistent with our expectations and the work we’ve done in international markets. The focus has been, and remains to be, on providing the necessary academic and support services to enhance the student learning experience,” Victor Tomiczek, Manager for Enrollment Services (International), told The PIE.

Its development also allowed CBU to increase its budget by 37 percent, helping create new programs and improve local facilities.

Hope and Progress

For decades, the small island of Cape Breton suffered from population decline. But now, for the first time in two decades, the area saw a growth in its population, with CBU’s thriving international student base a major contributor.
Aside from that, CBU’s enhanced presence also helped build and grow the community. Unemployment decreased by 15 percent as the island saw increased economic activity. More housing and supplies were needed and before long, Cape Breton even had to add more buses to accommodate the new students and exclusively cater to them.
"Let me put it this way: The community is asking us to do this. The community wants international students,” Dingwall said in a Globe and Mail report.
Until now, the local government is making an active effort to improve its services and transportation to keep up with the growing population.
Of their partnership with MSM, Brett MacLean, Senior International Recruitment, said: “MSM has been a fantastic partner because of their filtering of educational consultants, their on-the-ground support, as well as follow-up with our admissions department in Canada. The support has been absolutely crucial.”
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