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One-size rule ‘will damage’ diverse Canadian sector

Policy targeting “bad actors” in the Canadian international education sector is going to have unintended consequences for the good players, a leading sector stakeholder has told The PIE.

The Continuing Care Assistant Certificate Program is the biggest course at Oxford International's Halifax school. Photo: pexels

Oxford International has locations in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax

Following the federal government’s announcement that it will reduce new study permits by 35% for the next two years, ending access to post-graduation work permits for students at public-private partnership institutions and introducing an attestation letter requirement, stakeholders have said the measures are too broad.

In addition to potentially damaging the brand of Canada as a whole, they say the one-size-fits-all approach is going to damage a sector that offers a diverse range of study options.

Providers that do not offer access to post-study work permits are going to lose business as a result of the cap, with students likely to opt for other destinations. A lack of information about how provinces will roll out study permit caps will also be a challenge.

“We spent the last two years building career colleges, getting programs, paying for curriculum development, building facilities and teams. We’re at the stage where we need to have an increase [in students] to get a return on that investment that we’ve already made,” president North America for Oxford International Education Group, Sharon Curl, told The PIE.

“How [the provinces] do this cap is a great concern and worry to us… Other institutions are in the same situation.”

While supportive of addressing the issue of “bad actors”, Curl said that the one-size-fits-all solution is “worrying because the sector is so diverse and and varied”.

Language education association Languages Canada sent out a press release earlier this week reminding that students enrolling on short-term English or French language programs in Canada do not require study permits.

“There are no restrictions as to the number of visitors who can come to Canada with Temporary Resident Visas or Electronic Travel Authorizations. Canada remains open and ready to welcome international language students!” the organisation said.

Curl, who sits on the Languages Canada board as immediate past president, said that some of those schools impacted are contributing both to the economy and filling Canada’s skills shortages.

“Compared to a big institution, we know where every single one of our students lives and sleeps,” she said.

“Before they arrive, we put [them in our] home stay program, which actually helps with some of the housing crisis.”

Students staying with home stay families bring in funds for those who may be struggling with the cost of living crisis, while career courses on offer fill gaps in labour.

“There’s a lot of good news that’s coming out that is perhaps overlooked,” Curl detailed.

“All the programs we are developing are for in demand [jobs], where [Canada is] dying for for workers. For these types of businesses there should be a support.”

Oxford International, which has locations in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax (where the Continuing Care Assistant program is the biggest program), now has to prepare to deal with three separate provinces on study permit allowances.

“It’s going to be different in every single province and we’re in three,” she said.

“Canada’s done a really good job of building a brand”

“In Canada it’s difficult with immigration being federal and and education being provincial. The federal government is making a decision first… and I’m hearing a lot of concern come out of the provinces,” she said. “We’re kind of waiting for all the information to come out.”

For Curl, who has been in the industry for some 35 years, the potential hit on Canada’s brand is huge.

“To see something like this happen, you do so much work in marketing to make sure the message is right. And that seems to have been overlooked… that’s what’s sad about it.

“Canada’s done a really good job of building a brand… the damage that it could be doing to the reputation after we as stakeholders have built this over the years… I’m really hoping that the quality education that’s provided here prevails and people still see that and know that.”

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