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Cape Breton University students unhappy that classes held off campus in Cineplex

HALIFAX — International students who have travelled across the globe to study in Nova Scotia say their Canadian university experience is suffering because most of their classes are taking place at a movie theatre far from campus.
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HALIFAX — International students who have travelled across the globe to study in Nova Scotia say their Canadian university experience is suffering because most of their classes are taking place at a movie theatre far from campus.

“It’s a very depressing situation to be paying so much money to study, and we’re not having a proper study environment over there,” said Damanpreet Singh, president of the Cape Breton University student union.

Last semester, the business student from the Indian state of Punjab had all three of his classes at the Cineplex Cinemas in downtown Sydney, N.S., about nine kilometres from campus. He said students who have to travel for class are missing out on study spaces and community connection.

Singh is one of 2,681 students enrolled in the university’s two-year business post-baccalaureate program, which is available to students who already have a bachelor's degree. All but two students in the program are from abroad, and 86 per cent of them are from India, the university said.

John Nadeau, the dean of the university's business school, says classes for 90 of the 146 in-person sections of the post-baccalaureate business program are held in the multiplex.

Cape Breton University has expanded recently due in large part to international student recruitment. An October report from the Association of Atlantic Universities found that this fall, nearly 4,000 international students were enrolled at Cape Breton University out of about 5,900 total students.

That is up from about 2,400 international students in 2021, when the school had about 4,200 students. Five years ago, in 2017, the university had fewer than 900 international students out of about 2,600 total students.

International students at Cape Breton University pay between $18,915 and about $19,580 annually for school, about twice as much as the $9,810 that Canadian students pay.

Nadeau said the school is holding classes at the Cineplex to cope with a rapid increase in enrolment in the post-baccalaureate program. He said the pandemic caused many students to defer their studies while it was unsafe to travel, and now that COVID-19 restrictions are gone, there has been an influx.

“It’s something that we're looking at trying to control better in terms of intake … but we're still dealing with pandemic-related deferrals that led to a bit of a surge right now,” he said. He noted that the topics covered in the business post-baccalaureate program have struck a chord with students from India, and it also "fits with the two-year time period for students who want to pursue permanent residency."

Singh said that holding classes off campus for this program is disappointing to his peers who “came here to study as well as explore and interact with Canadian culture."

“We want to make some new friends, to be involved with students from other countries," he said. "There isn’t that environment at the Cineplex."

In his role as student union president, he has asked university officials to make it clear to international students that their classes will take place in a movie theatre and not on campus. "I spoke with students that said they are not familiar with what the Cineplex is. They actually thought the Cineplex was a building in CBU," he said.

Nadeau recognizes that the situation is not ideal. “We really do want them to have a good experience, and we certainly want to see this program back on campus,” he said.

“We just can't flip the switch and have a new building to support the growth," he added.

He noted that students in this program can buy a reduced-cost transit pass, and work has been done to create quiet study spaces at the theatre. He said there are also plans to offer healthy snacks and coffee for students at the theatre, so they can have food options beyond the cinema concession stand. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press

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