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November 7, 2002 International house is in the works



by Melanie Takefman

Je veux faire une cité universitaire,” said Mayor Gerald Tremblay at the Montreal Summit last spring, and so it will be. Plans are underway for a comprehensive residence to house approximately 2,500 Canadian and international students, interns and visiting professors from Montreal’s four universities.

“We want to make this cité more than a traditional residence,” said Claudette Fortier, assistant director of Advocacy and Support Services and Concordia’s representative on the planning committee for the cité. “We want to encourage contact between exchange students, people from different cultures and foreign and Canadian students.”

The committee is looking to international residences in other cities as models. One is the cité universitaire in Paris, a “residential campus,” which houses 5,000 French and international students and is not affiliated with any university. New York City and Los Angeles both offer students the possibility of living in “international houses.”

Montreal has always been a hot destination for international students: In 2001, Quebec hosted 14,021, of whom 2,009 were enrolled at Concordia.

Increasingly, the importance of their contribution to the city’s multicultural dialogue, economy, intellectual activities and international reputation is being recognized.

“International students contribute to the vitality of intellectual life and encourage open-mindedness as well as cultural exchanges... They represent a vast network of contacts in over 100 foreign countries and become ambassadors of Montreal in their countries of origin,” according to a report drafted by the planning committee.

While the number of incoming students has increased by 53.2 per cent since 1997, Montreal is facing competition from other urban centres as the prime destination of choice — and in the past few years, student housing has been scarce. Concordia is particularly “disadvantaged in terms of residence space,” said Fortier.

The cité will ease, but not solve, Concordia students’ housing tribulations, she added.
Tremblay and the planning committee hope that the cité will make Montreal the premiere destination for international students.

The committee has met four times to date and is composed of representatives from the city’s universities, McGill, Concordia, Université de Montréal and UQAM, as well as Hautes études commericales, École de technologie supérieure and École polytechnique, and the city of Montreal.
Guy Berthiaume, associate vice-rector and director of the rector’s cabinet at the U de M, heads the committee. As former director of the Canadian house in Paris’s cité universitaire, he brings a wealth of experience to the fledgling project.

While the cité is still in the preliminary stages of planning, members of the committee envision cultural programming and a conference centre within the cité, among other services.

Furthermore, the committee expects spots in the residence to be in high demand and will devise eligibility criteria and an application process; only graduate students may be admitted, for example. Similarly, each institution will integrate their needs into the overall plan.

The location of the cité is yet to be determined, but will be central. Fortier said that satellite houses adjacent to the institutions outside of the city’s core are being considered.

A committee hopes to complete a feasibility study by June 2003. The study, to be conducted by an independent research firm, will examine the international student market, and determine how to deliver the best service possible and continue to attract international students.

The committee will subsequently develop a basic concept for the residence, propose an administration strategy, draw up a budget and propose a plan for funding.

If all goes well, a tangible proposal for the cité will materialize before the end of 2003.