Nova Scotia

Some Cape Breton University students are commuting 5 hours to get to class

Some Cape Breton University international students are living in Halifax and commuting close to five hours to get to class in Sydney.

They are choosing to live in Halifax for a variety of reasons, including availability of housing and work.

“You get more jobs, you have security, the employer can guarantee you that they can help with your permanent residency,” said Maninder Singh, who goes by Manny, a recent health care management graduate at CBU.

The number of students at CBU has grown rapidly in recent years, straining the community’s ability to house and employ them. As of last fall, there were 8,517 full-time students enrolled at CBU — up from 3,616 just five years prior.

In 2023, international student enrolment rose to nearly 7,000, an increase of nearly 250 per cent over five years.

Manny Singh travelled twice a week to Sydney for class after he moved to Halifax for more work opportunities. 

He said he found the drive emotionally draining. He would wake up at 2 a.m. to go with a group of students to Sydney and would have to wait until everyone’s classes were done.

He would try to find a place on campus to have a nap while he waited, and would get home around 1 a.m.

Manny Singh said if he had secured a job in Sydney he would have stayed. He applied for jobs related to his pharmacy experience in India, his home country, and even considered fast food and retail jobs. But he said he had no luck.

It was when he moved to Halifax he got five job offers in the first month.

See also  Doctors from U.K., Australia, New Zealand offered easier path to work in Nova Scotia

Coffee to stay awake

Ronakkumar Trivedi, who goes by Ron, also commuted between Halifax and Sydney.

He came up with ways to feel less exhausted in class.

“What I used to do is stop my car at Tims [in Sydney] and used to have my coffee and doughnut, and then I used to attend my lecture,” said Trivedi.

Ronakkumar Trivedi studied business management at CBU. (Robert Killorn/CBC)

Trivedi moved to Halifax during his last semester of business management and had to drive to Sydney every two weeks with his friend for class.

He remembers driving through snowstorms and getting notified that school was cancelled halfway through the trip.

“Sometimes it happens that the classes are being arranged the next day so you have to stay in Sydney,” he said.

Then Trivedi would complete the presentation or lecture the next day and go back to Halifax.

Amnindar Singh, who owns a shuttle company based in Sydney, said he understood that students travel a lot, so he started a service between Halifax and Sydney.

He was an international student himself and said international students make up more than 80 per cent of his customer base. 

He has two vans that travel from Halifax to Sydney, with trips starting as early as 3 a.m. in order to accommodate students trying to get to class. 

A man wearing a black turban and a khaki shirt standing outside behind a grey shuttle van
Amnindar Singh was an international student at CBU and graduated with a diploma in petroleum engineering last April. (Kyle Moore/CBC)

Amnindar Singh said a lot of students are choosing rides with strangers on social media to save money. But he thinks it is has risks.

“If anything happens on the road they’re not going to [be covered] by any insurance,” he said.

Class attendance suffers

Scott Stewart, a philosophy professor at CBU, said he is concerned about students on the road at 3 a.m., particularly in bad weather.

A man wearing a black shirt smiles into the camera.
Scott Stewart teaches at Cape Breton University. He says he’s concerned about students making long commutes to get to class in Sydney. (Scott Stewart)

Stewart teaches a course that is made up entirely of international students. He said some of them include the students who live as far away as Halifax.

“It’s not just housing that forces them to Halifax and other places, it’s availability of jobs as well,” said Stewart.

Stewart said sometimes attendance at his course suffers and he will run his tests on two dates to make sure everyone can get to Sydney to complete it.

“I hope that we more closely align community capacity and university capacity as well with the number of students that we have,” Stewart said.

“I know there’s a movement toward that next year and I hope that continues until we get to something that’s sustainable and much more workable for students.”

CBU said in a statement that its students are not required to tell them where they live. The university said it realizes that students are living in other communities for employment and housing, but doesn’t recommend it.

The university has said it is advocating for more housing and is renovating and building more residences. 

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