Over the past decade, Laurentian has struggled to recruit international students even as its Canadian counterparts have cashed in on international fees to boost their finances.
Associate vice-president Serge Demers told The PIE News that Laurentian has student recruitment plans in place to bounce back after the school sought creditor protection in February 2021. Freezing tuition is part of that strategy.
“We felt that there wasn’t much to be gained by increasing fees for international students – we need to be competitive,” Demers said. Laurentian undergraduate students pay $26,000 per year in most programs.
Graduate student tuitions are $22,000 for three terms in a thesis-based program and $15,000 per year in a two-year course-based degree.
In the wake of the creditor protection filing, both domestic and international enrolments dropped. The number of international students fell from 597 in 2020 to 563 last year.
In an interview, Demers acknowledged that Laurentian has taken a public-relations hit by seeking creditor protection. “Some of our overseas agents did not get paid fully for the students they recruited and some are not very happy with us at the moment,” he said.
While several agents have dropped Laurentian from their client list, others are hanging on for the long haul in the hopes that they will recoup their losses, he said.
Demers believes that, as a publicly funded institution, Laurentian has a bright future. He pointed to the $63 million in funding the school has received from the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities. That’s in addition to the $53 million in Laurentian assets that the province purchased.
“With the province providing funds to Laurentian, this should assure people that Laurentian is here to stay,” Demers said.
This spring, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk criticised Laurentian for using creditor protection as a tool to get out of its financial difficulties. She has also pointed out that Ontario colleges and universities should not be so reliant on international student fees to meet their budgets.
So far, that has not been a problem for Laurentian, which has struggled to attract international students. This compares to other universities in the province, which boast thousands of overseas students. For example, University of Toronto has more than 22,000 enrolled.
The university had been successful in drawing students from Saudi Arabia, but was hit in 2018 when that country became embroiled in a political controversy with Canada. Foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, now the finance minister, sent a tweet criticising the Saudi human rights record. The Saudis responded by withdrawing their funding for students and Canadian universities suffered a hit to their enrolment.
“We’re expecting the number of international students to grow this year based on this diversification strategy”
The Saudi debacle has convinced Laurentian to broaden its search to more countries. “We can’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” Demers said.
This year, Laurentian is targeting India, China, Bangladesh and other nations. “We’re expecting the number of international students to grow this year based on this diversification strategy – pending the issuance of study permits,” he noted.
When it filed for creditor protection, the institution was forced to slash some programs and lay off staff. Fortunately, these cuts did not impact courses popular with international students, such as business, engineering and healthcare, Demers added.