Ottawa ponders international student puzzle

The federal government is rolling up the welcome mat for international students (and maybe sticking it in storage for a while).

Driving the news: Several federal cabinet ministers have floated options to reduce the number of international students at Canada’s universities and colleges, part of an effort to do something about out-of-control housing costs. 

  • Around 807,000 international students studied at Canadian colleges and universities last year, up from 239,000 in 2011.

  • The availability of student and rental housing in and around campuses has not increased proportionately, causing shortages and driving up prices

The situation has become bad enough that students at multiple colleges have been discovered sleeping on the street. Headlines like that have pushed the feds to come up with answers, like:

  • Capping student visas. One possibility raised by Housing Minister Sean Fraser is a hard cap on the number of post-secondary students admitted from overseas.
  • Prioritizing “trusted” institutions. Immigration Minister Marc Miller has suggested speeding up study permits for international students attending “trusted” institutions that offer more resources to students from abroad.
  • Limiting work opportunities for international students. Rules around where and how much international students can work were relaxed in the mid-2000s, making it possible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week. Rolling back these changes could make coming to Canada to study less attractive.

Yes, but: Colleges and universities have become dependent on international students—who pay significantly higher tuition than domestic students—to fund their operations, and limiting that revenue stream will strain their finances.

  • In Ontario, international students account for a greater share of colleges’ operating income than domestic students and the provincial government combined.

Bottom line: Admitting fewer international students may relieve some demand in the rental market, but it will come with trade-offs—higher tuition for domestic students to offset revenue losses, for example.—TS