Manitoba Elections 2019: Reinstating International Student Health Care

August 30, 2019 - 9 minutes read

This article is part of UMSU’s Manitoba Elections 2019 series, detailing the policy priorities that we have advocated for provincial parties to adopt as part of their platforms to ensure postsecondary education in the province remains affordable and accessible. Learn more here.

The withdrawal of international student health care coverage, compounded by escalating tuition costs, pose long-term risks to the appeal of Manitoba as a postsecondary study destination for foreign students aspiring to come to Canada. Photo: Pixabay


RECOMMENDATION: The Government of Manitoba should provide for international students by reinstating their health care coverage given the economic, social, and academic benefits they bring to the province.


International students comprise 19% of the U of M student population – roughly one third of the 18,725 international students across the province – and 5% at the University of Winnipeg, and attend each of Manitoba’s other postsecondary institutions. Together, international students represent a pool of skilled talent residing in our province with connections to more than 100 nations worldwide, and have been a boon to the provincial economy. International students also conduct vital research and help shape a global environment on campus, broadening the perspective and learning experiences of all students.

Given the robust economic impact of international students, the Government of Manitoba must implement cost certainty measures in order to maintain our competitive advantage in recruiting foreign learners and researchers to Manitoba.

According to the Government of Manitoba, international students collectively led to an injection of $400 million into the provincial economy in 2018. That’s more than twice the amount of record revenue generated by Manitoba’s red-hot film industry, with spending by international students underpinning some 4,250 jobs in the province’s housing, transport, retail and hospitality sectors. In recognition of the value international students bring with them, the Minister of Education and Training declared in March that 2019 be the Year of International Education in Manitoba.


In planning for the outsized cost of getting their degree, foreign students are hit particularly hard by unpredictable year-to-year changes in costs associated with postsecondary education. Source: U of M Student Affairs Office


Progress toward greater cost certainty can be achieved two ways. First, the Government of Manitoba should reinstate the health care coverage that international students and their dependents received prior to 2018-2019 as a result of being residents of Manitoba. The only other provinces to currently not provide international students public health care coverage are Ontario and Quebec (which has bilateral exceptions with certain countries).

This risk to the competitive advantage for the province’s schools is given in how they already rank lower on numerous university ranking scales, and how the University of Manitoba – the province’s only member of the U15, a group of Canada’s 15 largest public research universities – has the lowest number of Canada Research Chairs and research income among its peers. These research metrics are especially important in attracting to Manitoba international students interested in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which are fields heavily demanded by the private sector and predicted to spur significant innovation and economic growth.

The decision to cut international student health care coverage was cited by the Government as a cost-saving measure worth $3 million per year – considering the broader context, these savings are not worth the negative signal that policy sends. Over the long term, it risks having international students opt elsewhere for their studies.

At the very least the Government should look at working with regional health authorities to reduce Manitoba’s non-resident surcharge rate for health care services from 200% down to 75%. At the current level, the cost of a private health care coverage plan per international student for 2019-20 will rise to $865 per student from $606 per student. The premium cost for an international student in Manitoba will now exceed the premium paid per student in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan combined.

Amongst provinces that charge health care premiums for international students – Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and PEI offer free coverage – Manitoba will now be over 25% higher than the next most expensive province, Nova Scotia. Data from various provincial government and university websites.

Second, the province should undertake a formal study of the economic feasibility of installing a cap on international tuition rates, tied to inflation; or a fixed degree tuition model similar to the kind just approved by the University of Alberta, and make the results of the study publicly available.

Contrary to popular belief, international students for the most part are only able to finance their education through the support of an extended middle-class family network in their home country, or by selling off personal assets to acquire private loans. With the present estimated cost of obtaining a degree in Canada as a foreign student being roughly $100,000, any year-on-year tuition rises based on variable percentage increases distorts the amount of money international students need to plan for to complete their multi-year degree. Implementing cost-certainty measures will instead retain international students in Manitoba.

The current and future value of retaining international students as educated, young, tax-paying professionals, business owners and job creators is critical for the long-term wellbeing of the provincial economy.

Of the new job openings forecasted through 2024 by Manitoba’s Department for Growth, Enterprise and Trade, some 60% – roughly 12,000 jobs per year – are identified as requiring university, college and/or apprenticeship training. Such jobs require postsecondary education and hold inherent value in strengthening the institutions that underpin the provincial economy.

Retaining international graduates could be vital in filling some of the province’s 12,000 skilled jobs that the Government of Manitoba’s own predictions indicate will need to be filled annually through 2024. Source: MB Department for Growth, Enterprise and Trade.

As Manitoba becomes more diverse, drawing on international students already residing in the province to fill future job openings and serve the province’s increasingly intercultural communities is a sound strategy. International students tend to be some of the best candidates for immigration and among those most easily able to integrate into Canadian society. Their worth was recently borne out in the record 1,923 international graduates nominated for permanent residency in 2018 through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP) and underlined by the Government of Manitoba’s two new immigration streams unveiled in November, the International Student Entrepreneur Pathway and the Graduate Internship Pathway.

For years, international students have been relied on as the primary means to fill postsecondary funding gaps in Manitoba. Going forward, we need to recognize the economic, social and academic value of these students both during their studies and as prospective workers. To do this, we must reinstate funding for international student health care, and provide cost clarity for students upon their arrival. Other provinces are rapidly reshaping their policies to attract international students, and unless we follow suit, we risk losing the remarkable value these students bring with them.