Conestoga College boss suggests federal government rethink curb on international students

Conestoga College President John Tibbits. City of KItchener

Conestoga College president John Tibbits issued a memo to staff which called on the federal government to slow its move to curb the intake of international students into Canada.

“We agree that changes need to be made, especially in relation to private colleges, but the federal government’s decision should have been phased in over time and done in consultation,” the letter Tibbits issued on Friday said. “Instead, Canada’s reputation as a destination for post-secondary education is threatened.”

Last month, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced that the feds were set to install a two-year national cap on the intake of students which would see 364,000 approved study permits, down 35 per cent from 2023.

“In order to maintain a sustainable level of temporary residence in Canada, as well to ensure that there is no further growth in the number of international students in Canada for 2024, we are setting a national application intake cap for a period of two years for 2024,” Immigration Minister Marc Miller said when the move was announced.

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Statistics Canada reported that just over 300,000 study permits were granted to international students in Ontario in 2023 and the federal governments new measures could cut that number in half.

When Miller made the announcement, former immigration minister Sean Fraser, who is now the housing minister, said the federal government had been discussing changes as levels of student intake have seen “growth beyond what certain communities could handle. And that’s what justified the decision to use this particular suite of measures (including a cap) that Mr. Miller announced today.”

Conestoga College has been expanding at a rapid pace over the past few years as the college’s annual report for 2022-23 said that the school had 42,000 full-time students, a number which has doubled since 2020.

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Global News reached out to the school for the exact number of international students who are at the school but it has been reported that that number is at least 50 per cent.

The same report says the school has been raking in the cash over the same timeframe, with tuition fees climbing to close to $400 million in 2023, a number which had grown from $109 million a year earlier.

However, Tibbits argues in his letter that schools have been forced to chase foreign students by a lack of financial support from the province.

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“Domestic tuition was cut by 10 per cent four years ago and has been frozen ever since,” he wrote. “Ontario’s tuition is now among the lowest in Canada and infrastructure funding has not been available.

“It would be nearly impossible to manage the college effectively on domestic tuition and grants to meet the needs of employers for a skilled workforce, especially in a region that is growing economically.”

According to Statistics Canada, for the 2022-23 academic year, the average domestic student in Canada paid $6,834 in tuition while the average international student paid $36,123.

That said, he also noted that the school has been targeting international students for more than two decades as it could see issues with an aging workforce on the horizon.

“Conestoga was aware of these looming workforce shortages more than 25 years ago,” the college president wrote. “We welcomed our first international students in the mid-1990s, at a financial loss, and it took several years for us to refine our international student recruitment strategy and build international enrolment.”

Within days of the federal government’s announcement, the Ontario government also announced changes to the “protect the integrity” of colleges and universities.

The moves included a review of some programs with a focus on pipelines from education to work, a pause on public-private college partnerships and a requirement for housing to be provided to international students.

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“We need to strengthen the links between Ontario’s labour market needs and the programs being offered to students so we can get even more people into rewarding careers in health care and the skilled trades,” Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop stated.

In his letter, Tibbits applauded the province’s moves, saying that Conestoga would support these measures while also claiming that the school was “meeting housing needs.”

— with files from Global News’ Uday Rana, Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello 

Click to play video: 'Recruiters downplaying tough realities for international students in Canada'
Recruiters downplaying tough realities for international students in Canada

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