America drawn to cut-price Canada

May 25, 2001

Skyrocketing university costs in the United States are pushing more students across the border to Canada for a cheaper deal.

Canadian institutions are starting to cash in on the problem and have begun recruiting heavily in the US. The number of Americans at Canadian universities is up 71 per cent since 1998, according to the Canadian embassy in Washington.

US enrolment at Montreal's Concordia University has more than doubled. At McGill University, also in Montreal, it is up 60 per cent.

Robin Geller, McGill director of admissions and recruitment, said: "First and foremost, they think they're going to get a very good quality education here. There's a confidence that even though it's not an American university, it's a university that has a lot of prestige and physically it's very close."

Competition for admissions is less cutthroat than in the US, and all classes are taught in English.

But a principal reason for the influx of Americans is the comparatively cheap price.

A US undergraduate at McGill pays about $7,000 (£4,900) a year in tuition and fees "to get a quality of education that in the US would cost them considerably more".

American private universities charge as much as $25,000 in tuition and fees, not including room and board.

Even though they pay less than at home, American students pay more than most Canadians, so Canadian universities have started actively recruiting them.

"One of the challenges of Canadian universities is the notion that we all live in igloos here and that the temperature is always 20 below zero," Ms Geller said.

In addition to overcoming that perception, she said, "we want to be sure that we continue to attract the best students from all over the world and the competition is ramping up".

McGill sends recruiters across the border in autumn and spring, focusing on top high schools. It hosts events it calls rendez-vous to persuade accepted students to enrol.

The University of Guelph in Ontario has sent promotional materials to 50,000 prospective US applicants with an image of a freezing, snow-covered student asking: "So you think you know Canada, eh?" Other universities, including the University of Windsor in Ontario, have reduced their tuition fees for US students.

But overall, Canada still winds up the net loser in the education trade.

There are about 4,000 Americans studying in Canada, while more than 23,000 Canadian students are enrolled in the US, up from about 18,000 in 1990.

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