McGill bids to draw UK students

March 15, 2002

Montreal's attractions as a bicultural, inexpensive and cosmopolitan city have given McGill University a significant competitive advantage in the campaign to recruit international students.

The university has begun to focus on British students looking for a North American experience and has succeeded in drawing several away from leading universities in the United States. For the past three years, McGill recruiters have been taking their pitch to London.

Montreal is a university city, with 150,000 students enrolled at four universities, more than either Toronto or Boston. Its exotic and relaxed reputation is illustrated in tourist office claims for the most tango dancers in North America and Bicycling Magazine 's choice for best North American city to bike in.

Rebekah Pym had planned to pursue her graduate studies in musicology at the University of Chicago. But $26,000 (£18,000) in tuition fees and no sign of scholarships prompted her to turn to McGill. Ms Pym, , originally from Bolney in West Sussex, left Britain at 18 for undergraduate studies in Vermont. She was referred to McGill by a New York musician with whom she was studying privately.

"Universities like their international students," she said. McGill has helped her out financially with bursaries, campus jobs as a webcast announcer of classical concerts and as a teacher's assistant, and a provincial programme that offers merit-based waiving of international fees. As a result, her C$1,600 (£702) a year fees are less than a quarter of what her fellow international graduate students pay. With a rent of C$480 a month, Ms Pym is also able to live alone.

McGill's international students, who make up 17 per cent of students, pay from C$8,268 for an undergraduate arts degree to C$19,200 for medicine, law and dentistry. While the 112 UK students still make up a small number of the McGill's 4,604 non-Canadian enrolment, numbers of new British recruits have risen by 68 per cent.

Ms Pym sees Montreal as more of a stop on her way to greater opportunities than a place to settle. Her French studies in England may have helped her correct essay papers from her French-speaking undergraduate students but they would not, she felt, get her a job. "I couldn't even bag groceries here," she said.

On a typical Montreal winter morning with blue skies and a temperature of - 15C, Jodi Latham said of home: "One thing I hate about England is it is always overcast. It's depressing."

She was drawn to Montreal from Cambridgeshire by a boyfriend rather than university recruiters. The relationship broke up but she decided to stay in Montreal and enrol at McGill.

She found that the flexibility of being able to change from English literature to a programme in political science and history without losing any credits was one attraction of Montreal, but the main one was the lifestyle and cost of living compared with Britain.

McGill recently announced a 37 per cent increase in tuition fees for international students over the next four years - but 20 per cent of the receipts will be directed toward a financial aid programme.

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