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As if moving to a new country and starting university weren’t nerve-racking enough, the unknowns of pandemic schooling have left international students wondering if and when they will be able to study on Manitoba soil this year.
Complete with a rowdy frosh week, intramural sports and lecture halls packed with potential new friends, Sangyun Kim had always imagined his first year of university would mirror clichéd depictions of North American campus life.
The incoming freshman from South Korea has had to adjust his expectations.
"I just want this COVID situation to be slowed down as soon as possible so that I can make many friends and enjoy the campus life in Winnipeg; that’s just all the things I want and everything I hope," said Kim, a soon-to-be business student at the University of Manitoba, during a phone call Friday from Seoul.
With six weeks remaining until the school year starts, Kim is finalizing his study permit application in the hopes he’ll be able to move into residence on the Winnipeg campus as early as October.
If the federal government doesn’t approve his request, the 22-year-old will be stuck in a different time zone, 14 hours ahead of both his instructors and classmates.
New guidelines from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada aren’t in his favour. An update issued this week indicates international students whose visas were approved after Canada’s lockdown may not be allowed to enter the country until travel restrictions loosen.
Even foreign nationals with a valid study permit or who had received a letter of introduction on or before March 18 may be denied entry, if their reason for travelling is deemed "discretionary." Students will have to prove their in-person presence is necessary for their program, and if accepted by border agents, self-isolate for 14 days once they arrive.
The Université de Saint-Boniface has provided new international students with two options this fall: defer admission or do distance learning.
"This second option is not recommended because distance learning is done in a synchronous and face-to-face manner; meaning that students would be ‘in class’ very late at night," spokeswoman Dominique Philibert said in an email Friday, adding the French university does not expect many new international students to begin their studies in September.
Provincewide, schools are projecting revenue losses related to a decline in international students. Universities Canada estimates one-quarter of Canadian post-secondary institution revenue comes from international students, who pay significantly higher fees than their Canadian counterparts.
Campus food, parking and residence revenues will also take a hit.
Last year, 65 per cent of the students in U of M’s residences were international. To date, approximately half of the students who have reserved on-campus housing for the fall are international, and never left campus.
Public health protocols mean schools also have to shrink their residence capacity and only offer single-dwelling units. U of M is offering fewer than half of its usual beds this fall.
At Brandon University, where international students typically fill 25 per cent of campus housing spots every year, residence manager Derek Booth said staff has been fielding concerns about fall housing arrangements linked to international travel restrictions.
On Friday, Booth said residences are expected to open to eligible students in early September, with staggered check-in schedules, physical distancing markers and new occupancy limits in common areas.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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