However, the minister warned “perverse effects” associated with the growth in recent years and risks to the “integrity of the system”. The US hosted 948,519 international students in the 2021/22 academic year, according to the latest Open Doors report.
Speaking on CBC’s The House, Canada’s immigration minister Marc Miller said that the country is set to increase its total international student population by 100,000 to reach 900,000 this year. In the last academic year the country’s institutions enrolled 800,000 international students.
Miller noted that “with any sort of lucrative economic proposition”, there have been players “gaming the system”, particularly among private colleges that “have ballooned in parts of Canada”.
“My principle concern is with that integrity of the system”
“My principle concern is with the integrity of the system,” he said. “[There is] some fraud, some people taking advantage of what is seen to be a back door entry into Canada.”
He noted the growth in international students has led to pressure in a number of areas, including housing. Last week, Canada’s housing minster suggested introducing a cap on students was “one of the options that we ought to consider” to deal with the housing crisis.
“The housing crunch is something that has been 30-40 years in the making and is something that we have to address but we can’t pin it on any particular segment of the population. It would not only be intellectually lazy but also false,” Miller told CBC.
“I don’t want to overstate [the pressure on housing] because a number of students already have housing, a lot of institutions are providing a lot of resources to be properly housed,” he noted.
For a sector worth between $20-30 billion to Canada, Miller emphasised maintaining the integrity of the system.
“There are some illegitimate actors that are giving false sense of hope to people in countries across the world that they can come to Canada and study here. [Then] they get here and they’re getting the equivalent of a store front and not necessarily getting the quality education that they were promised. That is something we need to take a hard look at,” he said.
“It’s going to take heavy discussions with provinces in particular and the institutions that are hosting them.”
The minister said that it is “important to differentiate” between the good and the bad actors. “Just putting a hard cap for example… is not the only solution to this,” he said.
Some private colleges issue acceptance letters and “only have places for about a fifth of places that they send out”, Miller continued.
“That is a real concern and plays to the narrative of the integrity of the system being challenged and people just taking the money and running.”
“What we don’t want to see is hopes dashed based on a false promise”
Other countries have prioritised strategies that focus on sustainable growth in recent years. New Zealand for example has placed ‘value over volume’ in its plans, while the UK is aiming for sustainable levels of international student numbers up to 2030. It famously hit its international student target of 600,000 a decade early and universities want to maintain the level in the next years.
Canada is set to launch a new international education strategy in April 2024. In consultations, stakeholders have said the issue of agents’ role should be reviewed.
“What we don’t want to see is hopes dashed based on a false promise,” Miller concluded.
“People that come to this country are looking to come here in record numbers, and that means people have an idea of what Canada is to them and largely these are people that are going to build the future of this country.”