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Pandemic travel restrictions could impact Northern Ontario colleges, universities

Thunder Bay would feel the most economic pain from fewer foreign students
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Thunder Bay would feel the greatest economic impact if there were fewer foreign students attending post-secondary institutions in Northern Ontario due to the impact of COVID-19.

The Northern Policy Institute crunched the projected numbers for the 2020-21 academic school year at this region’s 11 college and universities if pandemic-related travel restrictions and lowered savings were to significantly reduce enrolment of international students.

Students from abroad represent a total region-wide economic impact to institutions and communities of just under $300 million.

If there is full enrolment for 2020-21, international tuition fees at Northern Ontario’s 11 colleges and universities is projected at more than $111.6 million combined.

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For Lakehead University, that represents $57.5 million; much higher than the next institution in Confederation College at $15.6 million. 

Cut that enrolment in half and Lakehead is losing more than $28 million.  

Beyond tuition fees, foreign students and visiting family members spend a significant amount of money in their host communities through rent, residence housing, groceries, meal plans, transportation, communications, textbooks and supplies, clothing, and discretionary expenses.

For the 2020-21 school year, it’s projected to be more than $99.7 million combined in the communities of Hearst, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timmins.

Thunder Bay alone sees more than $47.3 million of that amount, which would be a very significant decrease should fewer students show up.

When the multiplier effect is applied (goods and service companies, residence construction), should only half of the projected international students arrive for class next fall, a $142-million loss would be felt in the entire regional economy.  

Fifty per cent fewer students in Thunder Bay would translate to an $80 million loss to the city’s economy.

“Economic impact assessments are a tool used to measure how many dollars an industry, institution, or group of people contribute to the economy,” said research analyst Hilary Hagar, author of the report.

“For example, an Ontario-wide study of universities found foreign students spend $794 million annually just on living expenses alone.”

Hagar concluded that “now is the time” for college and university administrators, and community leaders, to strategize on a way forward.