On September 2023, senators Sabi Marwah, Ratna Omidvar, Hassan Yussuff and Yuen Pau Woo released their co-authored report, ‘Strengthening the Integrity of Canada’s International Student Program.’
The report dives into the challenges facing the country’s International Student program, which had over 807,750 international students present and studying there at the end of 2022. The students hailed from many countries, with the top source countries being India, China, Philippines, France, Nigeria, Iran, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and the USA.
The challenges addressed in the report include Canada’s current housing crisis, which has often been attributed to the inflated number of international students, which, many observe, drives up rent prices and the availability of housing in an already tight market. Further, news such as the 700 Indian students facing deportation due to fraudsters preying on the system has raised questions over its integrity and the need for reform.
As the public eye shifts to Canada’s International Student Program, the urgency to address deficiencies within the program has assumed the utmost importance. The article will look into the challenges and suggestions of the report in shaking up the Student program.
The positive side of the International Student Program
The benefits of the International Student Program are generally twofold- economic and cultural.
The International Student Program is a major contributor to Canada’s economy, with a study commissioned by Global Affairs Canada in 2018 estimating the contribution at over $22 billion.
The program contributes to Canada’s short- and long-term labour through provisions that allow them to work during their studies and scheduled breaks and the Post Graduate Work Permit Program (PGWP) after completing their studies. The IRCC’s permanent residency programs also favour candidates with previous education and experience in Canada.
Culturally, the program also enriches the social fabric of Canada and exposes students to new cultures and ideas.
The challenges facing Canada’s International student program
Canada sets higher tuition for international students studying in the country. The fees often experience unpredictable hikes from year to year, and the gap between International students and Canadian tuition grew to almost triple in 2022. Despite this growing gap, Canada remains an attractive destination as the tuition compares favourably to other global educational hubs.
Instead, the report identifies the problem as the inability of Canadian Designated Learning Institutions to cover their expenses, leading to a dependency on international student tuition.
Between 2010-11 and 2020-21, university tuition revenues increased from 21.5% to 28.8%, even as provincial funding declined from 41.5% to 32.5%. This increase in revenue could be attributed to International student tuition, which accounts for 100% of net new income over this period.
This race for more international student enrollments compromises the quality of education within Canadian institutions. DLIs have also been known to lower their admission criteria for international students to feed their recruitment numbers.
The report also mentioned the increase in public-private college partnerships that allow public colleges to enrol more students through affiliated private career colleges. The public-private college partnership came under scrutiny due to their ineffective oversight, leading to frequent exceeding of enrollment limits and noncompliance with quality assurance audits.
The dependency on International students to supplement revenues could also lead to a failure of the entire education system in case of fluctuations and drops in the number of international enrollments.
Agents or consultants are locals who help international students with a range of services, including preparation for language tests, obtaining a Letter of Acceptance and other documentation from a DLI or submitting their study permit applications. Agents usually earn a commission from a Canadian DLI in exchange for enrolling the international student.
The report questioned this practice’s ethics- given the power these agents hold over the future of prospective students. An agent desiring more commission will likely put their interest ahead of a student’s. Common consequences include:
- Referring international students to programs ineligible for the Post Graduate Work Programs (PGWP).
- The falsification of documents and false promises about jobs and prospects for permanent residency in the future.
The report also mentioned the problem of ‘ghost consultants’ who prey on enthusiastic students, most recently in the case of the 700 Indian students facing deportation due to forged Letters of Acceptance issued by their agent.
The report also identified the present situation around Private colleges as a cause of concern. Many cases have come to light of agents and even private colleges issuing misleading statements about the ability to transfer to public colleges in the future- required for PGWP, and compulsions to pay tuition in full even if students withdraw from the college.
These practices of Private colleges are subject to lesser oversight as they operate as private businesses and do not receive public funding.
The report also included that many international students suffer sexual abuse and harassment in Canada, with a survey by McGill University finding nearly 39% of international students experienced sexual harassment and 24% sexual assault.
This problem stems from international students’ inherently vulnerable position once they arrive in Canada. Many hesitate to report crimes due to their student status.
The vulnerability of international students is also exacerbated by the current housing crisis. According to Statistics Canada, 40% of study permit holders in Canada live in unsuitable accommodations compared to 9% of the rest of the population. Many International students have suffered discriminatory rental listings that exclude them, abuse from landlords, exorbitant upfront payments, unsafe accommodations and overcrowding, among other things.
The prospect of staying on and finding employment in Canada is a big motivation for many international students in Canada. Currently, full-time international students are only eligible to work up to 20 hours per week while class is in session and full-time during scheduled breaks. The IRCC even lifted off-campus work rules until the end of 2023 to help alleviate Canada’s labour shortage.
This has caused legitimate concerns that the system will be abused by candidates who intend to pursue work under the cover of their study permit.
Many students regularly exceed stipulated work limits or pursue work opportunities under the table, leading to exploitation by shady employers.
TR to PR pathways
The report also criticized the distant dream of permanent residency that many agents, institutions, and the government sell to their international students.
According to Statistics Canada, the grim reality is that only 30% of international students who arrived during the 2000s became permanent residents within 10 years, highlighting the high competition for these spots.
Suggestions to Strengthen the International Student Program Integrity
Along with the issues compromising the integrity of the Student program, the report also listed suggestions to be implemented at the federal, provincial and territorial levels that could help restore the program’s integrity.
Some suggestions of the report were as follows:
- A national review of the financial sustainability of Designated Learning Institutions
- Introducing greater oversight on DLIs, including private colleges
- Improving awareness among international students about programs eligible/ineligible for PGWP
- Housing for international students
- Spreading awareness among International students about their legal rights and available recourse.
- A national policy strategy on Temporary to Permanent residency pathways- currently, Canada does not have enough Permanent residency spots to meet the demands of its international students.
- A national policy strategy on International student settlement support to help provide better care to international students.
- A national language standard for DLI admission criteria- to avoid DLIs welcoming candidates with weak profiles to fluff up their enrolment numbers and revenues.
- Strengthening the Letter of Acceptance verification process to prevent a repeat of the 700 students facing deportation for fake LOAs.
- Create stronger oversight and regulations over the conduct of education agents and penalties for agents and DLIs benefitting from such behaviour.
- Implement regulations of International student tuition to prevent any unnatural hikes.