Concerns are growing that student numbers will wane in the Canadian province of Manitoba as the government debates cutting universal healthcare for all post-secondary international students.
According to a spokesperson for health minister Kelvin Goertzen, the government is expecting to save an estimated CA$3.1 million (US$2.4 million) by removing international students’ healthcare coverage.
Dele Ojewole – a former international student and now interim chairperson of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students – told CBC News: “Right now we know that international students are already paying triple the tuition, so however the government is trying to charge them for healthcare coverage, it’s something that we think is harsh, it’s something that we think is inhumane and it’s something we hope the government will take a step back on.”
It was only six years ago, in April 2012, universal healthcare for international students was brought into action. However, four years later in 2016 Manitoba Health reviewed the policy, among others, under the Progressive Conservative government.
“Our government has been reviewing an awful lot of programs […] and we look for value for money,” Education Minister Ian Wishart told CBC News.
He added Manitoba hopes to return to the private system which was in place before 2012 in which international students were responsible for their own healthcare costs.
“It just strikes me as deeply unfair. These are kids that are coming to our province to get a leg up,” NDP opposition leader Wab Kinew told CBC News. “They should have access to health care.”
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However, Wishart wished to highlight the rarity of free healthcare, claiming outside Canada very few countries offer it to international students. He also added Manitoba still boasts the second-lowest tuition fees in the country – and, with cheap private health insurance on offer, he does not anticipate a drop in international student numbers.
“We’re certainly a very affordable option in terms of going to post-secondary education, even with any changes,” Wishart said.
Kinew and Ojewole both feel this is an optimistic way of looking at things; realistically, they claimed, free healthcare attracts many international students to Manitoba over other Canadian provinces and indeed other countries.
“It’s something that will drive students out of this province,” Ojewole asserted.
According to Ojewole, healthcare is something which brings large numbers of students to Manitoba, and without it international student numbers will undoubtedly fall, having a significant knock-on effect on the local economy.
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“We know the value that international students bring to this province in terms of their investment, in terms of the fact that not only will they stay in this province when they finish their education, but it will also improve the economy of this province and educate the society,” Ojewole asserted.
The current system means any student with a valid study permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, who has been living in the country for six months or more and is legally enrolled on a post-secondary institution in Manitoba, can obtain a Manitoba Health card.
If successfully obtained, international students and their spouses and children are able to access healthcare including medication, surgeries and therapy and counseling as a part of the free plan.