- Canadian provincial governments have been supporting rural colleges but their initiatives have never been more sought out in a post-COVID environment.
- Rural communities are facing challenges ranging from a skill and employment gap among workers and losing their youth to urban centers.
- Tapping into international student mobility is one way of addressing some of these provinces’ problems. Education platforms like M Square Media have contributed millions of dollars to the local economy.
- There is a need for school-specific initiatives first, then “outside help” like strategic partnerships and pathways next.
The impact of schools on rural communities in Canada cannot be understated. According to a 2017 study by Schollie Research and Consulting, “delivering a high quality of education to rural students is paramount” and stakeholders believe schools in rural communities are one of the last pillars supporting rural life.
In this light, provincial governments have continually sought out ways to support their rural colleges which, in turn, aid the progression of their respective communities and local economies. The importance of these initiatives has never been more highlighted in recent years following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education institutions.
Rural Communities Trends and Issues
Rural communities in Canada are facing several challenges which include but are not limited to skills and employment; cost of housing; and access to services, among other things. This lack of proper infrastructure, strong leadership, and viable plans and solutions to address the needs of rural communities have resulted in rural depopulation and a struggling economy.
The agriculture, tourism, and technology sectors are prime examples of how rural communities, due to the lack of skilled workers, have failed to capitalize on the massive opportunities for economic growth.
Just last year, the government expressed support for the tourism industry and has stated its awareness of how the “skills gap issue” is affecting the multi-million dollar industry.
It will take a gargantuan effort to streamline, train and maintain skilled workers made up of indigenous Canadians, newcomers, and other under-represented groups. Migration is one thing. Education is another.
Importance of Higher Education in Rural Communities
The population is the number one major concern for rural communities in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, less than one in five Canadians live in rural areas.
“Canada’s rural population increased by 26,609 people (+0.4%) from 2016 to reach 6.6 million in 2021. However, the rural population growth rate was fifteen times slower compared to urban areas in Canada (+6.3%). Rural areas have less than 1,000 people and a population density of fewer than 400 persons per square kilometer,” it stated.
Generally, rural communities struggle with their youth leaving for highly urbanized centers in search of better education or employment opportunities. These affect the sustainability of higher education institutions like community colleges, which also impacts the development of skilled workers in the community. Unfortunate effects include school closures or some form of organizational consolidation or reconfiguration.
Schools contribute to the vitality of rural communities. Not only are they places of study and opportunity, but they also serve as centers for social engagement and networking. More importantly, educational institutions often carry with them some of the community’s history and traditions, which are essential to a community’s cultural identity.
The MSM Initiative: Connecting with Rural Communities
M Square Media (MSM) is a leading global service provider and international education platform for colleges and universities headquartered in British Columbia (BC), Canada.
Since its inception in 2012, MSM has had a history of working with rural partners in the international education sector. It had first partnered with Northern Lights College in 2013 before adding three rural colleges and one rural university partner to its portfolio. Since then, MSM services have resulted in increased tuition revenues for rural colleges.
Currently, MSM has rural partners in the provinces of Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. This speaks of the company’s efforts in empowering local communities by managing local higher education institutions and providing them with strategic partnerships and pathways.
Higher education institutions in Canada’s rural communities should be able to operate sustainably, primarily through the application of school-specific initiatives and then supplemented by outside help in terms of partnerships and pathways.
Some of these strategies include the welcoming of more students from indigenous communities and collaborating with the local religious, cultural, and education sectors to build more programs that address the specific needs of international students. This could range from items such as the cost and quality of living to networking and building relationships that would further their chances of having a career in the community. Having a strong skills or trades program is also one of the many ways an institution could contribute to the community while ensuring it operates above board financially. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)
Suneetha has worked for 15 years in the international education sector and 25 years overall for various industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institute, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application prescreening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.
She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.
Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.
Schollie, B. (2017) Impact of Schools on Rural Communities Study. Alberta Education. Retrieved from https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/4fe9fef3-c6b2-411b-b5aa-9d0cb4cb3d54/resource/d700586a-1690-4687-84ff-4d4d8205bb59/download/the-impact-of-schools-on-rural-communities-study.pdf
McLaughlin, A. (2017, June 28) Ontario investing $20M in support for rural, northern schools. CP24. Retrieved from https://www.cp24.com/news/ontario-investing-20m-in-supports-for-rural-northern-schools-1.3480644
Basken, P. (2021, Dec. 30) Laurentian battle suggests fight for Canada’s rural higher education. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/laurentian-battle-suggests-fight-canadas-rural-higher-education
Rural Opportunity, National Prosperity: An Economic Development Strategy for Rural Canada (2019, May 27). Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/rural/strat-eng.html
The Future of Canada’s Tourism Sector: Shortages to Resurface as Labour Markets Tighten. (2012, March) The Conference Board of Canada. Retrieved from https://m3.ithq.qc.ca/collection/00000231.pdf
Government of Canada announces support to the tourism sector to create jobs and strengthen the economy (2021, December 17). Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2021/12/government-of-canada-announces-support-to-the-tourism-sector-to-create-jobs-and-strengthen-the-economy.html
Population growth in Canada’s rural areas, 2016 to 2021. (2022, February 9) Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/as-sa/98-200-x/2021002/98-200-x2021002-eng.cfm
Francisco, E. Northern Lights College: First MSM Partner Now Sought-After in the Indian Market. M Square Media. Retrieved from https://msquaremedia.com/impact-stories/northern-lights-college/
Collier, S. (2021, August 6) How Much Does It Cost To Study In Canada? Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved from https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/student-finance/how-much-does-it-cost-study-canada