International students driving new programs and economic hopes

First-year University of Toronto Mississauga finance student Alex Tang has a lot to think about.

The international student from Hong Kong pays residence fees and for a meal plan at Oscar Peterson Hall, in addition to $30,000 in annual tuition for the school’s deregulated Commerce program.

“It’s like six times more than him,” Tang said, pointing to his friend Jiaming Huang, who pays regulated, domestic fees because he has Chinese and Canadan citiizenship.

In addition to a highly competitive program, Tang said sometimes it was hard to open up to other people living nearby in his residence. “They’re from Markham, Scarborough,” he said with a laugh. “Most of them speak fluent English. I’m afraid of talking to them because I can’t. I don’t feel very confident.”

International students like Tang are often vulnerable to challenges in trying to navigate their first year of education in Canada. Concordia University in Montreal was recently in the news after Chinese students protested about the price and condition of homestay programs. The students said they were recruited into the expensive home stay services through a third-party agent hired by Concordia.

Dean of student affairs Mark Overton told UTM doesn’t have this problem because the campus doesn’t offer or promote any homestay programs. “They don’t typically require an agreement or a lease, so there’s really an unclear set of expectations on what the landlord might expect or want and what the student might expect or want,” he said.

The city of Mississauga has also tried to address the language and academic needs of international students before they enter college or university. The recently-opened Peel Academy for International Students was created in partnership with UTM and Sheridan College. Hosted at Clarkson Secondary School on Bromsgrove Road, the specialized program also emphasizes helping students quickly acquire and develop English skills.

The academy started its first official year earlier this September and celebrated its official opening last week on Nov. 8.

For parents and students interested in registering for next year, this kind of help and preparation isn’t cheap. While international students at the Peel Academy attend some classes with other Clarkson students, tuition for the new academy is $13,250 per year. Students who are unable to stay with relatives are required to enroll in a homestay and custodianship program at a cost of $1,075 per month.

Despite these financial and language barriers, the city is trying to make itself more accessible and provide more resources to international students.

Last week a group of 100 first year students from UTM and Sheridan met with UTM’s principal and vice-president Professor Hargurdeep Saini, Sheridan’s president and CEO Dr. Jeff Zabudsky and Mayor Hazel McCallion at an orientation event at City Hall.

Zabudsky commented that the city would be looking more towards its youth for the future as more of its older residents aged and retired. “I hope that many of you will choose to build your lives and your careers here,” he said.

City economic development director Susan Amring also spoke of a new partnership program between Sheridan, UTM and the city’s business community to help better equip students for jobs in the future.

“We want to be a leader for that talent to be available for our businesses,” she said.

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