SMU, Dal target international students

Saint Mary's more successful at luring foreign students

Paul Hardman helps an international student at the writing centre at Dalhousie’s Killam Library. Photo: Elnaz Behnia

Every year, an increasing number of international students come to Nova Scotia to pursue higher education. In Halifax, Saint Mary's University is more successful in attracting international students compared to other universities, such as Dalhousie.

Although Dalhousie offers more academic programs, a higher percentage of international students end up in Saint Mary's. The number of international students enrolled at Dal in 2010 is 1,613, 10 per cent of its student population. Saint Mary's has 1,465 international students, who form almost 20 per cent of all the students.

One reason for the difference may be Saint Mary's Teaching English as a Second Language Centre.

International students must take certain tests to prove their proficiency in English language. One is the TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language.

Dalhousie only accepts students who have a TOEFL score of 90 and higher, but at Saint Mary's the minimum requirement for admission is 80 out of 120.

And Saint Mary's rarely rejects an international student with low scores in English proficiency exams, such as TOEFL. Instead, it provides students with a conditional acceptance, requiring them to take the test later or participate in their Teaching English as a Second Language program.

At the centre, students' English skills are tested and, based on their scores, they enter one of the six levels. When they graduate, students can immediately enroll in Saint Mary's.

"Almost 90 per cent of the students who graduate from level six go on to Saint Mary's," says the centre's director, Michael Armour. "We only get one or two students who might just be taking it and then go on back to their own universities."

The centre provides assistance to all international students, even those who pass English proficiency tests. Many students go there to overcome the challenges of speaking English as a second language.

Dalhousie University has higher admission standards. International students without English language proficiency requirements are not admitted. There are no adjustments or bridge courses like Teaching English as a Second Language program to help the students' transition.

Also, Dalhousie does not provide the international students with the same level of language assistance. There is no designated location or building for students with language problems. The only place on campus that international students can turn to is the writing centre at the Killam Library.

Assistants at the centre are not trained to help international students. But when there are no other alternatives, it's the only option. Paul Hardman, the writing advisor at the centre, said that the number of international students who come for help has increased by 30 per cent. Also, a non-credit ESL course is being offered to help students improve their writing skills.

There may be other reasons why Saint Mary's has more international students than Dalhousie.

Armour says Saint Mary's has better recruiting and marketing strategies to attract international students, while Dalhousie is more successful in attracting students from other parts of Canada.

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