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Ontario colleges — not universities — will face biggest hit from foreign student cap | CBC News

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Only one Ontario university will see its international student intake shrink this year while more than half of the province’s public colleges face a drop, under a plan announced Wednesday by Premier Doug Ford’s government. 

Ontario’s plan comes two months after the federal immigration minister announced a national cap on study permits for international post-secondary students, amid complaints that an explosion in their numbers was driving up housing costs in cities across Canada. 

Some 240,000 international students were issued permits to attend post-secondary programs in Ontario last year, and the federal cap will see that number drop by roughly half this year. 

Ontario’s priorities for its smaller allotment will be programs that train students for “in-demand jobs” in such fields as skilled trades, health, human resources, hospitality, child care and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the Ford government said in a news release.   

Colleges rather than universities will face the biggest drop in their international student numbers. 

  • Thirteen of Ontario’s 24 colleges will see their allocation of study permits decline from 2023 numbers, according to the news release.  
  • Only one of Ontario’s 23 universities will see a decline: Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie. 

“This approach recognizes that Ontario’s universities have been responsible in their recruitment and management of international recruitment,” said Steve Orsini, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities, in a statement posted on the organization’s website.

‘We have been working with post-secondary institutions to ensure international students are enrolled in the programs to support a pipeline of graduates for in-demand jobs,” said Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop in a news release. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The announcement comes one day after the Ford government’s 2024 budget revealed that Ontario’s colleges will lose out on $3.1 billion in revenue over the next two years from the expected drop in international student enrolment.

Marketa Evans, president of Colleges Ontario, the organization representing the 24 public colleges, said the revenue losses will have a severe impact on the fall academic term. 

College funding model ‘broken’

“No organization can absorb such losses without significant cuts to operations,” Evans said in a statement posted to the Colleges Ontario website on Wednesday. 

“The business model for funding public college programs is severely broken,” she said. “While recent stabilization measures from the province are welcome, the majority of the financial support continues to go to Ontario’s universities.”

In 2019, the Ford government froze direct provincial funding to the post-secondary sector, cut tuition by 10 per cent, and explicitly encouraged colleges to recruit international students. Foreign students pay significantly higher tuition fees than Canadians. 

Last month the government announced a $1.3 billion boost to post-secondary funding, spread over the next three years. It falls well short of the $2.5 billion increase recommended for the same timeframe by the government’s own panel of experts in November, before the cap on international study permits was imposed.

University of Toronto campus
The University of Toronto, home to a large international student population, is seen here. The Ontario government says it will allocate 96 per cent of permit applications to publicly assisted colleges and universities, with just four per cent going to language schools, private universities and other institutions. Career colleges will not receive any applications, it says. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The government said the biggest declines in study permits this year will be seen at Conestoga College in Kitchener and at public colleges that contract private colleges to deliver programs tailored to international students, known as public college-private partnerships.

More than 30,000 international students were granted study permits in 2023 to attend Conestoga, more than any other post-secondary institution in Canada. Conestoga led the country in study permits for foreign students in four of the past five years, according to federal data. 

“We have been working with post-secondary institutions to ensure international students are enrolled in the programs to support a pipeline of graduates for in-demand jobs,” said Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop in the government’s news release.  

Dunlop said 96 per cent of Ontario’s foreign student allocation this year will go to publicly funded colleges and universities, with the remainder to language schools, private universities and other institutions. Private career colleges will not get an allotment.

Private colleges were not the key drivers of Canada’s explosion in international students, according to federal immigration data obtained and analyzed by CBC News in February. 

Data reveals Ontario public colleges account for biggest share of international study permits

New data obtained by CBC News shows which colleges and universities have been driving Canada’s sudden growth in international students. As CBC’s Mike Crawley reports, Ontario’s public colleges account for a disproportionately high share.

Just 10 Ontario public colleges accounted for nearly 30 per cent of all study permits issued across Canada since 2021, the data revealed.

In 2023, permits were issued to 175,000 international students to study at Ontario’s public colleges, more than four times the number issued for the province’s universities, according to the data. 

The government said no school will be permitted to receive more student permits in 2024 than in 2023, and its permit numbers must not exceed 55 per cent of its first-year domestic enrolment.

Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller has said the cap is in response to a recent surge in international students and is meant to curb bad actors from taking advantage of high tuition fees while providing a poor education.

“Eager to review the details of this announcement in more depth, but this appears to be a very reasonable response by the Government of Ontario,” Miller said on social media Wednesday.

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