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International students take college by storm

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Red River College has one of the most successful aircraft maintenance engineer training programs in the country, and for the past few years close to 40 per cent of the students in that program are from India.

The 17-month diploma program is one of the most popular among RRC's growing number of international students. It has four intakes per year with a maximum of 18 seats per intake. Six of those seats are reserved for international students, more than 90 per cent of whom are from India.

Those foreign-student graduates -- who, like all the students, are recruited and typically hired before the program is over -- are now peppered throughout the aviation and aerospace industry in the province.

If you allow that RRC's students are its customers, then India is one of its most successful foreign markets. So it makes a lot of sense RRC president Stephanie Forsyth is part of Premier Greg Selinger's current trade mission to India.

RRC has an aggressive target of having international students make up 15 per cent of its total student enrolment by 2020.

Kim Jasper, chief development officer at RRC, said the college's aggressive foreign recruitment serves several elements of the college's mandate, not the least of which is on the revenue side because foreign student pay on average 300 per cent more than domestic students.

"Red River's mission is to strengthen Manitoba's social and economic environment," she said. "We have a very specific mandate. Given that the predictive skills requirement in 2020 is for 75,000 workers in Manitoba, then this (international student recruitment) is a strategy that can help in that."

As well as building up a pool of skilled workers for local employers to hire, Jasper said, "It also opens up the conversation and opportunities for Manitoba companies to expand into these countries as well."

And it so happens Forsyth is travelling in India with a Red River colleague who is of Indian ancestry.

The college believes its drive to fill more classroom seats with international students does not limit access to domestic students.

Christopher Walters, academic co-ordinator of the college's aviation and aerospace program, said intakes rarely fill up to the maximum level. The latest round numbered only nine, three of whom were international students.

And rather than cause any disruption to the operation of the program, Walters believes the influx of international students since the college started its push in 2009 has made it a better program.

"The international students made us re-evaluate our program," he said. "They've helped us make it better for every student."

Walters said there was a realization the technical skills of the current cohort of domestic students was not always that high and a rethink was conducted with that in mind, as well as the fact there would be international students with English as a second language.

Curt Enns, the owner of Flin Flon-based Wings Over Kississing Air Service, is one of the beneficiaries of the campaign to fill more seats at RRC with full-price international students. Kississing operates close to 20 planes in the summer months, servicing both the resource and tourism industries from bases across the North.

He's just hired a couple of recent aircraft maintenance engineer grads from India for his Flin Flon shop.

It's not the first time he's hired graduated international students and it's not a big deal for Enns or his staff, even though Flin Flon might be an exotic locale for someone brought up in the Indian sub-continent.

"It is a pretty tight-knit bunch in Flin Flon," he said. "And like just about everywhere in the North, there are lots of people who are from somewhere else. And the company sort of has a subculture of its own. The Indian guys have been well-received by their co-workers."


A snapshot of Red River College's international students program:


-- 44 -- number of international students at RRC in 1997-98;

-- 536 -- number of international students at RRC in 2011-2012;

-- 5.8 -- percentage of international students that made up the entire RRC student population in 2012;

-- 15 -- percentage of international students RRC plans to have by 2020;

-- 300 per cent -- how much more (on average) an international student pays for the same program as a Manitoba student;

-- China, India, Korea -- RRC's top three international student partner countries.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2013 B5

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