Concerns over planning, lack of funds, displacement of domestic students

On January 15, the federal government announced a new international education plan which aims to double the number of international students studying in Canadian institutions by 2022. Two hundred and sixty-five thousand international students were attending Canadian universities in 2012, so the government’s goal is to raise this number to 450,000 in 10 years. This has raised concerns over the ability of post-secondary institutions to accommodate the growing body of students.

Many schools located in urban centers such as Ryerson University and the University of Toronto already have to deal with a large pool of applicants for a very limited number of spots. Ryerson claims to receive some 70,000 applications for a total of 6,500 first year spots. The university’s president, Sheldon Levy, says that although he welcomes the prospect of incorporating a larger domestic and international student body, he believes that more serious planning and spending is needed in order to guarantee the plan’s success.

A major concern that remains is the possible displacement of domestic students in order to accommodate the federal government’s ambitious plan. Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, assured that he will not allow for such a displacement to occur. However, doubts remain about the plan’s practicality. According to Stephen Toope, outgoing president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), the accommodation of these new students and the creation of an adequate support system for them will need a lot more planning and government spending than is currently outlined.

Despite this initial skepticism, many university leaders understand the benefits a more diverse student population would bring both to the economy and to university funding. With recent difficulty in obtaining grants from the government, international students and their higher tuition fees will encourage significant investments in Canadian post-secondary institutions. Furthermore, it is expected that international students will bring an extra $8 billion in spending every year to the Canadian economy. The government also plans to develop this plan along with a greater variety of opportunities for domestic students to study abroad.

The chair of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O), Alastair Woods, also believes that although the increase of international students will bring benefits, there are tangible drawbacks facing international students. Looking ahead, Woods expressed some concerns for these students.  “International students are an integral part of academic and campus life at institutions across the province and across Canada. They bring valuable contributions to the classroom and extracurricular activities while reflecting a global diversity on campus. Beyond the classroom, most international students remain in Canada upon graduation to make a life for themselves here, further contributing to economic, political, and social growth. I am, however, concerned that institutions will use this government announcement to further take advantage of international students through unregulated tuition fees.”

With files from The Globe and Mail

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