Students abroad struggle with loonie on the decline

The sinking loonie is putting additional financial pressure on students planning to pursue their education abroad.

Taggart McMillan, who has applied to take chemical engineering at the University of North Dakota, is beginning to question whether he made the right decision.

“Money is always kind of an issue when you think about post-secondary education, the dropping dollar isn’t making that any better,” says McMillan, a Grade 12 student in Regina.

The Canadian dollar was 71 cents to the U.S. dollar as of Jan. 28.

“I plan on working full time this summer and really trying to save up, since I won’t have much opportunity to work in the States without a working visa,”  he says.

“I am from Saskatchewan, which is considered a sister state to North Dakota, so we get some money off tuition.”

“I am hoping that the dollar will figure itself out before I have to commit to crossing the border next fall.”

Many students already studying abroad, like Alexandra Gergely, say the dropping dollar hasn’t been easy to manage.

Gergely began working on her Master of Science degree at University College Dublin in September, when the euro was worth $1.20.

While she had expected some fluctuation in the exchange rate, she never thought it would get this bad. One euro is currently worth about $1.50.

“Ultimately by staying in school I am digging myself much more into debt than I had imagined,” she says.

“I used over 80 per cent of my available cash in the first semester settling myself.”

Tuition is 17,400 euros per year, with an additional 9000 euros in living expenses. Altogether she is paying about $40,590 per year.

For Gergely, the dropping dollar hasn’t only taken a toll on her bank account.

“After my first semester I gave serious consideration to dropping out because of my financial restraints,” she says.

“The only way that I was able to return was to dive into inheritance money that I was saving as a lump payment for my loans upon my graduation.”

“I have been skipping meals in order to save the money that I have. I am penny-pinching at every turn. I am not able to travel while I am studying, which was one of the main reasons why I decided to study abroad.”

“I have anxiety attacks before I go to the grocer,” Gergely continued. “Ireland is already a very expensive country. I feel like I am stuck.”

Amy Braye, the study abroad and exchange advisor at Dalhousie University’s International Centre, says the deadline for next year’s study abroad application is Jan. 29 and it will be interesting to see the impact of the declining dollar.

While it’s too early to know the number of applications, “it would be my assumption that if I am reporting declining rates in students wanting to take their education outside of Canada, it will be largely attributed to the dollar value,” she says.

“When students are submitting their applications, they must also submit a budget plan,” she adds, “so I imagine the dollar value will be taken into consideration.”

The flip side of the declining dollar is that Canadian universities will become more affordable and attractive to international students.

Luke Yates is a journalism student at the University of King’s College from the United Kingdom. He says the value he gets for his money makes it worth coming to Canada to work for his degree.

“The dollar value makes a big difference when I transfer money,”  Yates says.

“I try and exchange my money when the dollar is low. I still have problems other students have with (the prices of) groceries being higher, I also have a problem with buying flights and setting up a housing situation, since I had nothing here,” he says.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education estimates that about three per cent of Canadian students study abroad every year.