At the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, recruitment efforts are focused on African countries where French is spoken. However, more than 80% of UQTR applicants from Francophone nations like Algeria and Cameroon are denied a study permit by the Canadian government.
“We are able to attract students and grow, but it’s very frustrating that the level of effort required to actually enrol a student is very high,” UQTR rector Christian Blanchette told The PIE News in an interview. “We have to recruit far more students than we actually end up enrolling.”
The study permit acceptance rate at UQTR is only 21%. Just down the road in Montréal, English-language school McGill University sees 90% of its qualified applicants receive a permit.
“We have to recruit far more students than we actually end up enrolling”
Nevertheless, the efforts at UQTR are paying off. The university has about 300 more international students this fall, with enrolment now at 2,600. The school, located in the small city of Trois-Rivières, has a total of 15,000 domestic and international students.
In analysing the data on why students are refused a study permit, Blanchette says the most common reason given by Canadian visa officers is that there is a risk that the student will not return home upon completing their studies.
However, this presents a Catch-22 for the applicant. Canada actively encourages graduates to seek permanent residency. But students who express interest in immigrating may be deemed at risk of refusing to back to their home country.
The second reason given by visa officers in turning down study permits is that the student does not have the required academic qualifications. Given that the university has experts in selecting the appropriate students, Blanchette finds this surprising.
“Our experience is that the students who come to us are good students. The university is very rigorous about whom we make offers to enrol. We never accept unqualified students.”
Finally, some visa officers reject students for not having adequate financial resources. However, English-speaking countries like India have many applicants of modest means. The study permit acceptance rate for that country is 64%.
A parliamentary committee has previously blamed high study permit refusal rates for African students on racial profiling.
It is a common problem for French-language institutions. In New Brunswick, the Université de Moncton this fall received 4,000 applications and made 1,500 offers – but only enrolled 200 students.
Earlier this year, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration held hearings to investigate the issue.
After listening to testimony from experts including rector Blanchette, Member of Parliament Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, who represents Québec’s Lac-Saint-Jean riding, concluded that racism was to blame.
“We see that Francophone students from Africa are being discriminated against”
“We see that Francophone students from Africa are being discriminated against,” he suggested to the committee.
UQTR recruits most of its students from Africa, with 35% coming from France. The study permit approval rate for the European country was 92% last year.
Blanchette says students from France are attracted by the opportunity to have an international experience and to the specialised programs offered in the French language, including forensics and tourism.
Many parts of Québec are facing demographic challenges, with an ageing population and fewer young people as the birth rate has plummeted. Most immigrants to the province flock to Montréal.
In response, the Québec government has implemented a reduced tuition program for international students who study in French outside of Montréal. These students must pursue programs like healthcare, IT and engineering, whose graduates are in high demand. The initiative starts in fall 2023.
However, Blanchette sees this as just a start. “We would like to see a more robust program, with more money and the chance for larger universities in big cities to participate.”