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Ontario’s private providers grapple with international study permits allocation

“We will not take this lying down” – that was the message from Ontario’s private language schools regarding the province’s study permit allocation announcement.

Ontario's private career colleges received the least amount of international study permits - none at all. Photo: Unsplash

Previous estimates had suggested Ontario would see a drop of 133,000 students in the next year

Ontario has said it will give 96% of its allocated study permit applications to public colleges and universities while language schools, private universities and unspecified “other institutions” will receive the remaining 4% share, it was announced on March 27 by Ontario minister of colleges and universities, Jill Dunlop.

The PIE understands that private language schools have received 3,591 provincial attestation letters, only 2% of the province’s 235,000 total PAL allocation.

Languages Canada previously advised Dunlop’s office that Ontario’s accredited private language schools required an allocation of 15,000 PALs to sustain 2023 student numbers.

The allocation given represents “only a fraction of what is fair and reasonable” for Ontario’s private language schools, the organisation told its members.

Institutions are expected to receive individual allocations before the end of March 28 but Languages Canada warned that based on the “meagre” overall allocation, institutional PAL allocations are not expected to be close to sufficient in meeting enrolment needs.

Languages Canada is working to find solutions for its members, meeting with IRCC to update on the “appalling situation” it said is playing out not only in Ontario, but across Canada. Private sectors in Manitoba and PEI have both been allocated zero PALs, the organisation shared with its members.

Languages Canada is seeking counsel on possible legal action, while also lobbying for language students to be exempt from the cap.

“Language education is not responsible for the unsustainable growth in international education in Canada and in Ontario in particular,” Anthony Stille, president of both English School of Canada and Languages Canada, told The PIE.

“Punishing our programs for the unchecked growth in other areas is unfair and will have significant consequences for official language education in Canada.”

Stille highlighted that language programs in Canada have not returned to pre-pandemic numbers, and that primarily students live with homestay families and are being “unfairly blamed” for the housing shortage.

Previous estimates had suggested the province would see a drop of some 133,000 students in the next year as a result of Canada’s cap on international study permits.

But with Canada’s current International Education Strategy set to expire on March 31, some in the Canadian sector believe it’s high time new models and strategies are introduced.

“We can stomp our feet and get angry about the situation, but the reality is that educational institutions around the world need to change,” said James Rice of IBT College.

“Educational institutions need to be leaders of change not followers”

Rice is confident in the college’s role as a leader in that change, and told The PIE many new doors are opening in many new stakeholder countries, such as Malaysia, where the team presented to Malaysian government officials during the Team Canada Trade Mission.

“Educational institutions need to be leaders of change not followers,” said Rice.

“The announcement by minister Dunlop shows how desperate the financial situation is with publicly funded colleges and universities in Ontario. It is a shame the way this has all played out in Canada but we need to rethink international education and student mobility in the 21st century and what that looks like.”

It’s Ontario’s private career colleges which received the fewest international study permits – none at all.

Adrian Sharma, chair of the Career Colleges Ontario board of directors, said the organisation is “disappointed” by the absence of permit allocations for its member institutions.

However, Sharma noted what he sees as an opportunity for the federal government and the province to collaborate on lifting the permit cap to help address the “urgent labour market demand for the skilled workers our institutions overwhelmingly train”.

“We look forward to working closely with minister Dunlop and her team to ensure that related policies are fairly considered for all of Ontario’s post-secondary institutions, including CCO members.”

Meanwhile, Marketa Evans, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario is one stakeholder “pleased” with the share allocated to public colleges, as are many stakeholders from the province’s publicly funded universities.

Evans said the allocation is a “clear recognition that public college education is essential to ensuring the province has a workforce equipped with the talent and professional expertise to succeed in key sectors”.

Despite the good news for public institutions, Evans said in a statement she regrets more has not been done to plan for and aid in the financial recovery of the public college sector during a time of abrupt change for the sector.

Sharing the sentiment of many stakeholders across Canada, Evans complained that the federal government’s cuts to study permit applications were implemented without any consultation or adjustment period.

“This has already resulted in the collapse of the spring cohort at public colleges, which represents about 25% of total college enrolment,” she said, adding that this has resulted in significant efforts to reduce costs, as colleges are not permitted to run unfunded deficits.

“The business model for funding public college programs is severely broken. While recent stabilisation measures from the province are welcome, the majority of the financial support continues to go to Ontario’s universities.”

Speaking to The PIE, Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice president for global engagement and partnerships at York University, said that “responsible institutions that have managed their growth with support and services are being recognised for their efforts regarding the allocations they’ve received from the provincial government”.

However, she noted that the mid-cycle announcement and delay in the implementation will significantly impact Fall enrolment for institutions.

“It is difficult for students to wait and see if they will receive a PAL when they may have choices to go to other destinations within Canada ahead of Ontario or abandon Canada altogether and choose a more certain destination.”

Gengatharan, who calls it a “privilege” to host international students, predicts a challenging few years ahead for the sector, and hopes eventually for a “seamless” framework, taking lessons from the current implementation process.

“Students and institutions need more certainty in planning programs and services, ensuring efficient use of resources, and to be respectful of students planning and investing in their futures.”

Isaac Garcia-Sitton, executive director of international student enrolment, education and inclusion at Toronto Metropolitan University said the cap on international study permits has exacerbated “existing financial pressures that have compounded over time” due to a number of factors – a 10% tuition cut, a prolonged freeze on tuition fee increases, and declining per-student operating funding.

“To navigate these challenges, significant infusion of funds is essential for ensuring the continued provision of quality education and support services,” he told The PIE.

He noted that the Ontario government’s recent decision to invest $903 million over three years as part of the new Postsecondary Education Sustainability Fund is a “step in the right direction”.

However, this investment, while significant, may not fully address long-term financial sustainability concerns of the sector, worries Garcia-Sitton.

“It is important that the government adopts the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Postsecondary Education Financial Sustainability, including the implementation of a three-year tuition fee plan and a 10% increase in operating grants,”

“These measures are essential to secure the sector’s future and would inject about $2.5 billion in ongoing base funding into colleges and universities over the next three years, with $1.9 billion in base funding specifically for universities.”


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