Indian students outpace Ontario government in funding colleges: report

Posted on September 17, 2023 in Education Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – News/Canada
September 7, 2023.   By Omar Mosleh, Staff Reporter

As domestic students enjoy stable or reduced tuition, Ontario colleges rely on international students, though their presence in such numbers is seen creating challenges for the municipalities the colleges are in.

Internationals students from India are now paying more to Ontario colleges than the provincial government, according to a new report.

The amount that students from India pay into Ontario’s college system has been growing for years, but 2023-24 was the first year that it topped government dollars, an author of the report said.

While domestic students’ tuition has often been reduced or frozen, international student fees have been steadily increasing. This new status quo leaves colleges far more reliant on tuition from international students to cover their annual operating budgets, said Alex Usher, co-author of the report “The State of Post-secondary Education in Canada,” published by Higher Education Strategy Associates.

A graphic in the report places Indian student contributions to Ontario colleges at about two billion dollars for the academic year that has just begun. The report states early on that “Indian students not only contribute twice the amount of money to the college system, on aggregate, that Canadian students do, they also contribute slightly more than does the Government of Ontario.”

“For a lot of (colleges), what’s happened is that they have turned themselves from institutions devoted to serving local labour markets into a role of serving people who want to immigrate to the country,” Usher said.

According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, there were 807,750 international students in Canada at all levels of study last year, up 43 per cent from five years ago. Indian students accounted for 40 per cent of the overall international enrolment, followed by Chinese students, at 12 per cent.

The situation has implications for the Canadian labour market and for how cities grapple with issues such as housing and social services, and could also create an uneven playing field for domestic students applying to colleges, experts say. It also highlights the inequity in who is paying for what and how much, they added.

It’s an example of moving toward “two-step immigration” through obtaining a study permit first, which thereby effectively puts a price on permanent-resident status, said Mikal Skuterud, a professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in labour economics.

“What we’ve done is we’ve monetized (permanent resident) status … in a backdoor kind of way,” Skuterud said. (It’s generally considered easier to attain permanent-resident status once you’re already in the country.)

“So it’s whether it’s the migrants paying really high tuition fees in order to get on this (permanent resident) pathway, or whether it’s temporary foreign workers accepting really poor jobs and poor wages — they’re paying the price to get PR status.”

An international student can pay up to six times more than a domestic student in tuition for some programs, Skuterud said.

Others see the situation as a case of the province downloading its expenditures to cities.

Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor of business, economics and public policy at the University of Western Ontario, said that as Ontario has frozen and reduced tuition for domestic students, colleges have made up for it by accepting more international students. “But there’s never really been a plan to house them, or to have increases for transit and things like that … So it’s basically increased the expenses that municipalities have to pay,” he said.

In some cases, this has led to municipalities struggling to provide housing, transit and social services for the increasing population.

“It’s a great thing to have some of the best and brightest people young people from all around the world wanting to come to Canada,” Moffatt said. “But without other government supports to make sure that the system is working for everyone, it does create these tensions.”

One of the potential risks is Ontario becoming overly reliant on one particular country to keep colleges flush with cash, Moffatt noted.

“Any time you have an industry that’s reliant on a single market, that becomes a challenge,” he said.

The situation could also lead to more schools choosing to accept international students over domestic applicants simply because they provide more money, Usher said.

“The Government of Ontario has loaded everything so that international students can be preferred to domestic ones, and they’ve done it by starving the institutions … I think you will start to see international students crowd out domestic students,” Usher said.

Skuterud said that while many people assume international students come from rich backgrounds and don’t need to worry about money, that’s not the reality.

“The data is terrible, but at least anecdotally, what we’re seeing is the investments and the sacrifices that parents are making to get these kids onto this (permanent resident) pathway in Canada is very high. And so these students are coming here and they’re struggling financially. And so what they need to do is work,” he said.

The end result is that many international students who come to Canada find themselves paying much higher fees than their peers while being forced to fill low-wage jobs. (Last year the federal government temporarily eliminated a 20-hour-a-week limit on work by international students.)

Skuterud said the government has effectively created “a much better work permit.”

“We’re at a point where a study permit is the de facto work permit — in fact, the greatest work permit you can have, because there’s no restrictions, unlike a temporary foreign worker program.”

—With files from Nicholas Keung

Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter:@OmarMosleh.

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