What is behind the problems in Canada’s international student program?
Canadian colleges and universities are make billions from international students, but many of the students spoke about living under dangerous conditions.
Jovial Orlachi Osundu, president of the international student association at the University of Moncton, says international students are wrongly blamed for the lack of housing and jobs.
“It is not fair to use them as scapegoats to explain the wrong decisions taken by our political actors in the past,” Osundu said.
Schools are now facing major reductions in the number of study permits for international students they can allocate after the federal immigration minister announced a temporary cap on Monday, with the goal of targeting institutional “bad actors” and addressing the impact on the housing market.
But how did we get to this point in Canada’s international student program in the first place?
Dismantling post-secondary education funding
There are more than one million international students in Canada, according to figures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Economist Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School in London, Ont., says post-secondary institutions are increasing international enrollment in response to provincial governments making cuts. in funding “over the past decade or more.”
In Ontario, DATA from the provincial government shows that operating grants for universities will be lower in 2021 — $8,350 per student — than in 2008, when they were $8,514 per student, not accounting for inflation.
“At least a handful of schools are going above and beyond what’s needed to fill financial gaps and significantly increase their enrollment,” Moffatt said.
International undergraduate student tuition is almost four times higher on average than domestic tuition, according to Statistics Canada.
Moffatt says colleges, in particular, rely heavily on international students and this is most pronounced in Ontario.
About 76 percent of all tuition fees for colleges in the province come from international students, according to a report through the consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates.
The report estimates that students from India alone will provide Ontario colleges with $2 billion in operating income for the 2023-2024 school year. That is more than what the colleges receive from the provincial government.
Who are the ‘bad actors’ in the sector?
The influx of international students coincided with reports of some recruiters mislead students about the education they will receive and the true cost of living in Canada.
Federal and provincial officials refer to these as “bad actors” in the post-secondary sector, who they say prey on international students.
In a statement, Jill Dunlop, Ontario’s colleges and universities minister, said “some bad actors are taking advantage of these students with false promises of guaranteed employment, residency and Canadian citizenship .”
CBCs The Fifth Estate exposed some of those false promises of theirs undercover investigation in 2022 revealed what some recruitment agents in Punjab, India, are telling students who plan to study in Canada.
The investigation found “sub-agents” working in the industry – recruiters who do not work directly with schools, but through third-party aggregators.
A report from Ontario’s auditor general in 2021 found that the increase in international students in Canada is influenced by prospective students who see our post-secondary institutions as “a pathway for immigration.”
But a Statistics Canada study That same year found only about 30 percent of people who came to Canada on a student visa obtained permanent residency within a decade.
Ashish Gill is a first-year hospitality student at Fanshawe College’s Toronto campus, part of a Fellowship with the private ILAC International College. Gill is from India and hopes to work in Canada after completing his studies.
“People are here for [permanent residency]. They have their mind set on getting PR,” Gill said.
George Jiang, an international student in his third year at the University of Prince Edward Island, agrees. “Most of us have the intention of immigrating to Canada,” he said. “The quality of life is generally higher than in most of our countries.”
Since the prospect of permanent residence has contributed to the increase in the number of study permit applicants, many of the students attend private colleges.
‘The diploma equivalent of puppy mills’
Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller called some private colleges in Canada “the diploma equivalent of puppy mills that just churn out diplomas.”
Miller and other officials say these “puppy mill” schools often rely on international student tuition. Some are located in strip malls and Miller says they don’t provide a quality educational experience.
Miller taught BC and Ontario especially in areas where private institutions are giving out what he calls “fake” degrees. He said these institutions have “exploded in the last two years.”
Moffatt says part of the problem is that responsibility for regulating the industry rests with multiple levels of government.
“It allows for a lot of finger-pointing between government mandates,” Moffatt said.
Prospective students applying for a study permit need an acceptance letter from a school listed in Canada. designated learning institutions. The provinces and territories are responsible for licensing institutions and the federal government maintains the full list.
CBC News reached out to Miller’s office to ask if “puppy mill” schools are on the list and how the federal government plans to address them if the provinces and territories don’t act.
Julie Lafortune, a communications adviser for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), said in a statement that IRCC will adopt a “recognized institutions” framework to identify designated institutions. of learning that “sets a higher standard.”
The statement said the government plans to implement that framework in time for the fall 2024 semester.