The federal government’s cap on study permits for international students is essentially a moratorium by stealth that is already causing significant and unnecessary upheaval for students, employers and communities.
The federal government has not consulted with Ontario’s public colleges on these significant changes and the decision has been rushed, resulting in a confusing and damaging early rollout. We urge the federal government to immediately engage with us and our provincial government in a meaningful conversation about the material impacts on students and Canada’s reputation.
We believe this blunt approach does not adequately consider the talent needs of the province of Ontario – and does not consider the many thousands of students who will now be left in limbo with their hopes on hold.
Ontario’s public colleges are very concerned about the attacks on a high-performing, efficient public college system – impacting our reputation with potentially long-lasting negative repercussions.
We have already been working constructively with the province on many of these issues.
Lack of consultation and chaos for students
The federal government’s changes are creating havoc for students NOW.
The federal government failed to recognize that public colleges have a year-round intake of students, designed specifically to meet employer needs. Colleges work year-round, as the demand for more people in the labour market is year-round. That means there are students already well into the application process, ready to start in May in programs for key sectors of Ontario’s economy.
The federal government’s process is too rushed. The imposition of an immediate requirement for a letter of attestation from the provincial government is halting all student visa processing right now, as the provincial government currently has no process for generating such letters.
This new and unexpected administrative hurdle has resulted in total chaos for students. The entire system for Ontario is frozen.
Students who had already been accepted into programs – and had paid their fees for those programs – are now having their applications for study permits returned to them. This is often without any explanation or way forward. This situation was entirely avoidable and is entirely arbitrary.
IMMEDIATE ASK: Ontario’s public colleges are calling for the federal government to delay the implementation of the requirement for a letter of attestation until such time as provinces can put a process in place. That is only fair to the students and to the employers who are counting on them.
Labour market demand
Ontario cannot grow, attract investment and solve its talent needs without college graduates.
College graduates fill key needs across sectors that include advanced manufacturing, mining, the electrical vehicle industry, early childhood, health care, housing construction and others that our economy depends on.
About 25 per cent of all current job vacancies in Ontario require people with college credentials. It is projected that 36 per cent of new jobs over the next 10 years will require college graduates.
Public colleges graduate over 27,000 people from STEM programs each year – an increase of about 12,000 since 2016. This represents nearly 50 per cent of the total provincial number of STEM graduates each year.
As well, the province of Ontario is predicting a shortage of 8,500 early childhood educators by 2025-26 and international students play a big part in filling this gap. Ontario public colleges currently enrol 4,500 international students in these programs, almost 50 per cent of the total enrolment.
The exemptions for students in master’s and PhD programs don’t reflect the current and future demands in Ontario’s labour market. For example, 60 per cent of the current vacancies in health care in Ontario are for college graduates.
We know that we all need to do more to work together to smooth pathways for international students into high-demand fields.
We have been working for months with IRCC on solutions to modernize the post-graduate work permit programs, to increase access for students looking to go into the skilled trades, health care, and other in-demand sectors – with special care paid to rural and northern Ontario and in francophone communities.
We look forward to resuming that dialogue with the minister. This is a shared responsibility and Ontario’s colleges have been – and continue to be – at the table with proactive constructive solutions.
IMMEDIATE ASK: Ontario’s public colleges are calling for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller to immediately engage with the province and with Ontario’s public colleges in a constructive dialogue about exemptions for students in high-demand programs – not just for master’s and PhD students. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada needs to work with the public colleges to remove barriers that prevent more students from entering high-demand programs.
The post-graduate programs at colleges draw from the same pool of talent – high-quality global graduates with an undergraduate degree. However, the post-graduate programs at public colleges have the added benefit of providing students with the hands-on training and Ontario-based experiential learning that allow them to quickly enter the job market.
IMMEDIATE ASK: Ontario’s public colleges are calling for the federal government to treat the post-graduate credentials at public colleges the same way it treats the post-graduate credentials at universities and to exempt them from the cap.
Reputational impacts and quality assurance
Minister Miller made the decision about the cap on international study permits without any consultation with Ontario’s public colleges.
The minister’s one-size-fits-all announcement is a blunt instrument that will greatly damage the good actors in college education and may not do much to rein in the bad actors.
Contrary to the impression created by the federal government’s announcement, Ontario’s public colleges are heavily regulated and operate to the highest standards.
Ontario’s colleges have been working collaboratively with the province for years on meaningful measures to further strengthen quality assurance and improve financial stability of the system. Meaningful progress has been made and that work continues. We are always looking for ways to improve. However, this blunt instrument is not the way to improve quality in the public college system.
All colleges are subject to regular quality assurance audits by an internationally recognized, arms-length quality assurance agency.
New programs are developed in consultation with advisory committees comprised of business leaders from the community and each college is accountable to a board of governors and to the provincial government. The colleges regularly report their financial statements and are held to metrics established in the province’s strategic mandate agreements.
The public colleges must submit applications to the province to develop new diploma programs and new degree programs must be approved by the province’s Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board and the provincial government.
Ontario’s public colleges have also introduced new standards of practice that are designed to strengthen the programs and supports provided to international students.
We look forward to more visits by Minister Miller to our public college campuses, to learn more about what public college education in Ontario is all about.
The federal government’s announced measures will have massive and long-lasting negative impacts on Ontario’s communities. We are just starting to understand and work through the many impacts on domestic students, programs, services and campuses.
It is essential that Ontario’s public colleges be equipped to continue providing students with a high-quality post-secondary education.
The 24 public colleges educate students in 200 communities and operate to the highest quality standards, for both international and domestic students. In many communities, our programs are the most affordable, accessible gateway to post-secondary education and training.
Our average tuition is about $2,700 per year for a domestic student. Our students – both domestic and international – tend to be older and many do not come straight from high school. In many communities, international students are welcomed as a key source of talent and rebalancing of aging populations.
There are modest changes the Ontario government can make right now to help us stabilize the system and keep programs and campuses open for domestic students as we work through this disruption. These include approving a modest $135 increase in per-student annual tuition and adopting its blue-ribbon panel’s recommended 10 per cent increase in provincial grants.