The Coast: Why should Halifax want more international students?
Mike Savage: What we need more than anything in Halifax is people. We need people to come here to live; we need people to come here to study; we need people to come here to invest, to visit, to come to conferences. As much as possible, we want people to not only come here but to like it here and perhaps to stay here. We have a built-in advantage over some cities in that we have six universities and a college right here in Halifax, which is a magnet for students.
Tuition rates for international students are much higher than domestic students', up to two-and-a-half times higher. Are universities taking advantage of these students?
I don't think so. I think you could probably charge more and lots of students would come here. It's still a very attractive value proposition for international students. Finding the right balance is a tricky thing that the universities and college have to work with. I know they wrestle with it a lot. It certainly is financially attractive for universities and colleges to have students from away, but nobody wants to kill the goose that laid the golden egg either.
Would you prefer to see some of those costs more evenly matched with domestic students?
I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure I can speak knowledgeably to that one. We're focused on those things that are in our area of having input. As a city, we can welcome people. I think the universities and colleges are constantly struggling to make sure they have enough money to run in a first-rate way, and that's their job. My job is to make the city as attractive a place as possible for people to come.
Nova Scotia sometimes isn't the most diverse or culturally sensitive place to be. How can the people who live here be more welcoming hosts?
I think in this part of the world, in Atlantic Canada, we were a little behind the curve on immigration overall. Now I think we're at the point where everybody understands we need people and we need people to come from around the world. It's a competitive marketplace, both for students and for immigrants. We do have to recognize that we have to make it an attractive place. We have to compete both for students and permanent residents in Canada. We have to make it easier. It's one thing to bring someone here. It's another to have them decide to stay here.
What's to keep the international students here after they graduate?
I don't think there's a secret to it. I think we just want people to know they're welcome. We're excited that they're here. We know they can go many places in the world, and the fact that they come here is important to us and we appreciate it.
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