How easy is it for Concordia students to attend from out of country?

International students face barriers to entry despite Canada topping list of most popular study abroad destinations

How easy is it for international students at Concordia to attend? Photo courtesy Concordia University

A 2021 survey titled “New Horizons”, conducted by the International Development Program IDP Connect, reveals that Canada is the most favoured destination by international students. 

Students from more than 50 countries were surveyed in the “New Horizons'' research. Approximately 40 per cent of the 3,650 students chose Canada as their first choice. Despite the pandemic, the strict travel restrictions, and high tuition fees, the influx of international students remains high. 

“Canada has loads of opportunities for [international students]. They can work after their studies and I think that is a really great thing. Not many countries offer this for international students,” said Aditi Baldowa, VP Communications of Concordia's International Student Association. 

“The main aspect for most international students is how welcoming [Canada] is for international individuals and the rules here are very accommodating,” said Sruthi Kavalipurapu, an international student pursuing her Masters of Business Administration at Concordia. 

Kavalipurapu said the immigration deadline imposed on Concordia by the Quebec government, however, caused a lot of trouble. She said that two of her four classes were in-person, so she planned to travel through a third country and pay enormous amounts to arrive in Canada. One day into her journey, while she was at a hotel in Maldives, waiting for her Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test, she was notified that all her classes were now online.

Kavalipurapu then received a Moodle update and an email from the university advising students in situations such as hers to postpone travelling to Montreal. Though she arrived in the city, Kavalipurapu said she felt frustrated because of Concordia’s inadequate communication.

“I think that was a thing that could have been handled better by the university,” she said. 

According to Baldowa, many students could not take up the extra burden of expensive travelling. She explained that the hybrid model of instruction employed by Concordia offered some relief to students who found reaching Canada difficult. Selective courses from both undergraduate and graduate levels switched to this hybrid model so students could attend remotely.

“Why should we be in Canada, when we are doing online classes? It doesn’t make sense”, said Baldowa. “I think that many [returning international] students are complaining about the fact that they are forced to come back to Canada.”

Despite welcoming this flexibility on the part of the university, some students are discovering new challenges remote learning abroad can present. 

Aafreen Ahmed is an undergraduate human environment student at Concordia attending classes remotely from Kuwait. She said adapting to an eight hour time difference for online learning was challenging; adding that Concordia didn’t provide enough resources to help students such as herself navigate this transition.

“I think the university should have provided psychotherapy sessions or any way of keeping [tabs] with me as a first year student who might struggle to adapt,” she said. 

Matt Stiegemeyer, director of student recruitment at Concordia, explained that another barrier for international students coming to Canada is the lengthy wait time for processing Certificat d'Acceptation du Quebec and visas. He said these documents are necessary for International students who wish to study in Quebec.

Stiegemeyer explained that even students who obtained visas in time were unable to travel before the immigration deadline tand obtain a study permit. He said this was because the borders of many countries remain shut for international travel; with some countries only offering limited flights running at three times the normal cost. 

Stiegemeyer added that it can sometimes be difficult for his department to process these immigration issues. This is largely on account that the students originate from various countries with unique travel restrictions. 

“[These issues] are so individualized. it's not the kind of thing that you can publicly say apply to all,” he said.

It seems that the university is not in a position to change the deadline for its international students. According to Stiegemeyer, Concordia is only acting on the rules set by the Quebec government. He also said that the Concordia President Graham Carr and Sylvie Bourassa, the executive director of government relations, both requested the government for a relaxation. 

"There are regular points of contact with both the governments, to push for allowances or edits to the expectations. Some of these have been met positively,” said Stiegemeyer.

“With thousands of students, there are hundreds of scenarios. I know there was a lot of effort to proactively think about how we can best serve our students, while also ensuring that we are compliant with the various government levels,” said Stiegemeyer.