A program that brings international students to study in New Brunswick’s public educational institutions is facing a major drop in numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Atlantic Education International usually enrolls more than 600 students from ages Eleven (11) to eighteen (18) to come study for a semester or several years at English-speaking schools. But with travel restrictions checking entry into Canada, that number is expected to fall to about ninety (90) percent this fall.
The federal government of Canada only allows entry to international students who hold or received their study permits prior to March 18, under an order in council.
“It’s mostly a seventh [of] what we’re used to seeing, so it’s a pretty massive drop in numbers — financially as well,” said Megan Stymiest, the director of policy and finance.
As a provincial government-owned organization, Atlantic Education International operates under the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It was established in 1997 to market and sell educational programs overseas, including the New Brunswick International Student Program.
The organization also sells the New Brunswick school curriculum to private schools in China.
International high school students are a major source of revenue for the New Brunswick province. In 2018-19, the International Student program produced about $10.4 million for the New Brunswick economy, including money paid to host families.
Students come from twenty-two (22) countries around the world. Those who study for a full academic year pay about $20,000 for tuition, health insurance, housing, and other fees.
After covering Atlantic Education International’s operating costs, revenue flows to New Brunswick public schools. Stymiest was unable to say what portion ultimately goes to schools.
Families house the foreign students during their studies, but most will not meet until after fourteen (14) days of self-isolation.
While many international students from the previous semester stayed in the province to avoid travel restrictions, most recent arrivals will complete their quarantine at hotels motels and other commercial accommodations.
Students have recently arrived from China, Vietnam, South Korea, and Italy. Under public health requirements, they are moved directly to their isolation accommodation and will be tested on the 10th day in quarantine.
Stymiest said that finding hosts has not been a challenge during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The host family piece of our program is really the pillar of what we do,” she said. “And having all of these families in every corner of New Brunswick province that are really committed and really dedicated to the international students is what sets us apart from all of the other programs across Canada.”
International High schools students will be spending their time at home doing online learning. It’s a change the program is ensuring hosts are prepared for — but the reduced classroom time has not stopped people from coming.
The program has grown in the past few years. This past academic year, more than 800 students were in the province over both semesters.
“In the beginning, students would come normally for one semester, and it was just for an experience,” Symiest said. “But in recent years we have seen students coming for full years and sometimes coming for Grade 11 and 12.”
Some similar programs across Canada were forced to entirely close during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re optimistic that perhaps we may see some more international students second semester,” she said.
“I think we will transfer back quite quickly provided that travel restrictions diseases and families are willing to send their children.”