The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, a provincial agency, says international students face challenges finding affordable housing, maintaining their mental health and understanding Canadian academic culture.
Ontario colleges have become highly reliant on tuition fees paid by international students, who now make up 37% of total enrolment. This influx has created a huge demand for better services to support them, the report found.
A shortage of housing across Canada is challenging both international students and Canadians. Students, especially from India, often crowd into small apartments due to the high cost of rent.
The report noted that some Ontario colleges are recruiting international students without considering where they will live. “The high cost of housing is contributing to students’ financial stresses,” the study said.
“I find it difficult to swallow that knowing that there is a lack of housing, colleges continue to bring in more students,” commented one unnamed college representative interviewed by the council. “And then they say, ‘Well, I’m sorry but housing isn’t our responsibility.’ ”
The council has urged colleges and municipal governments to work together to ensure that there is a supply of safe and affordable housing for international students. It credits some innovative ideas, such as converting existing buildings into residences, but says more needs to be done.
With rents and food prices soaring, students are increasingly relying on jobs to make ends meet. The report notes that half of all international students are employed – up from just 18% two decades ago.
Financial, housing and academic stresses are contributing to mental health problems. However, there remains a stigma about seeking help.
“Some students have expressed a misconception that, by drawing attention to their struggles, they could somehow jeopardize their student visa,” the study noted.
Some international students have trouble understanding Canadian expectations around academic integrity and plagiarism, the report said. At the same time, Canadians often fail to comprehend the culture of overseas students.
“I would call some Canadian communities deeply culturally unaware”
“I would call some Canadian communities deeply culturally unaware,” said one college employee quoted in the report. “And this is true of some of our faculty and staff.”
In the report, the council also urged colleges to review their English-language test requirements to ensure that students have sufficient language skills to succeed.
In addition, the council questioned the practices of colleges paying overseas agents commissions to recruit students. Recent media investigations have found that some agents make exaggerated promises to prospective students about finding employment and securing permanent resident status.
The Ontario government needs to “examine the recruitment practices and incentive structures used to attract students,” the study argued.
The council called on the colleges, federal government, provinces and cities to work together to solve problems facing international students. “A strategic approach can support institutions as they build safe, welcoming communities and can help protect Ontario’s reputation as a destination for high-quality education and enterprise.”