International students pay exorbitant fees. Who is responsible for hosting them? – National

Approximately 800,000 international students currently reside in Canada, and thousands more are expected to arrive with each new academic year.

As students return to school this fall, attention is increasingly focused on the responsibility of housing them and what these growing numbers mean for Canada’s housing crisis.

Pressure is mounting on the Liberal government to tackle the housing crisis, and several federal ministers have hinted that the number of international students could be capped in the future to ease housing demand.

“It’s a story as old as the world, that immigrants are responsible for social crises; that immigrants and migrants are responsible for the housing shortage, which is simply not true,” said Sarom Rho, organizer of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC).

Rho said Canada had already seen that a cap for international students wouldn’t work, as it had seen “something similar to a cap” before during the COVID-19 crisis.

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“In 2020 and 2021, we saw that very few migrants, including current and former international students, came to this country due to border closures. Yet housing prices continue to rise. In fact, they have increased considerably.

Instead, Rho said the focus should be on providing adequate housing for students – domestic and international – as universities and colleges continue to depend on them for hundreds of millions of dollars each in tuition. every year, and are banking on that growth for their financial future. .

“Colleges, universities and post-secondary institutions must do more to ensure international and domestic students can access affordable housing and benefit from in-school protections, which include caps on the rate of tuition increases. and school supports. And a lot of that is denied to international students,” Rho said.

Universities across Canada have opposed the government’s suggestion to cap the number of international students and have stressed the need for more funding to build student accommodation.

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The University of Waterloo announced on Tuesday that it is constructing a new 500-bed residential building on its main campus and that it will open by fall 2026. In the announcement, President and Vice-Chancellor of the university have recognized the need for housing crisis.

“This investment is also a key contribution to the region’s continued growth in housing capacity, which is especially important in light of the ongoing availability challenge in our community and across the country,” said Vivek Goel. in a press release.

A spokesperson for the University of British Columbia told PKBNEWS it was also working to build more student housing, and said university officials told Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that they did not support a cap on the admission of international students.

“With over 15,000 beds spread across the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, UBC is the largest provider of student residences in Canada and plans to add an additional 4,800 beds (4,300 in Vancouver and 500 in Okanagan) over the next 10 to 15 years at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion,” the spokesperson added.

Toronto Metropolitan University said that while it has no current plans to build more student housing, it was looking to “explore more affordable methods” of building its housing capacity.

But experts say that’s still not enough, especially as the amounts paid by international students for many schools continue to rise.

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“Ask a student from Brampton and he’ll tell you horror stories about how he lived. There are six or seven students living in underground basement apartments,” said Bikram Singh, a member of advocacy group Naujawan Support Network (NSN), based in Brampton, Ont.

“They pay rent, school fees and have to deal with exploitative landlords,” he said. “If they can’t provide us with housing or hostels for students, why are they charging us so much for an education?

According to Statistics Canada, the gap between domestic and international fees is significant.

In the 2022-2023 academic year, the average domestic student in Canada paid $6,834 in tuition fees. In contrast, the average international student paid nearly six times that amount, or $36,123.

A Global Affairs Canada report indicates that international students in Canada spend $22.3 billion annually on tuition, housing and discretionary expenses. Added to this is the fact that international students are a major source of labor for Canada, which has faced a severe labor shortage in recent years.

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This trend seems to be reflected in the financial statements of Canadian colleges.

What do the financial statements tell us?

In 2017-18, Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario generated $12.25 million in tuition revenue from domestic students and $41.3 million from international students. In 2022-23, domestic tuition revenue reached $14.5 million and international tuition fees soared to $131.5 million.

Canadore College did not respond to requests for comment.

Sheridan College, which has campuses across Ontario in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville, has become a legend in Punjabi hip-hop music. Some of the most popular Punjabi hip-hop artists have referenced “Sheridan’s life” in their songs and videos.

A spokesperson told PKBNEWS that Sheridan’s international enrollment has increased 6 percent over the past five years and its 8,832 international students are the lowest of Ontario’s 10 public colleges.

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Between 2021-22 and 2022-23, Sheridan’s revenue from domestic students actually fell 8%, from $65.2 million to $57 million, according to financial statements. Meanwhile, revenue from international students jumped 37.4 percent, from $105.3 million to $142.7 million.

A spokesperson for Sheridan College told PKBNEWS that its approach to admitting international students had been “slow” and “measured” but suggested it was necessary due to dwindling financial support from the government.

“Given changes in government funding levels, this decision, while consistent with Sheridan’s values ​​and commitment to academic excellence, had significant financial implications,” the spokesperson said.

Toronto-based Seneca Polytechnic derives 80 percent of its tuition revenue from international tuition and 20 percent from domestic students, according to a spokesperson.

The college said this was due to the fact that although the cost of a domestic student’s education is partially covered by government grants, the tuition fees for international students must cover the full cost of education. program delivery.

This boom in student numbers is also happening outside of Ontario. For example, over the past decade, the number of international students in Quebec has doubled. In December 2022, there were 58,675 international students in Quebec universities, an increase of 10,000 from the previous year, when they represented 14 percent of the total student body. Another 19,460 international students study at public colleges and private career colleges.

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Could universities and colleges build more?

Seneca has suite-style housing for 1,330 students and told PKBNEWS the college could not build more without funding from multiple levels of government.

“Given the cost of building housing in the Greater Toronto Area, we cannot build affordable housing without partnering with all three levels of government and the private sector to discuss solutions. Student housing is just one piece of a much larger issue of affordability across Canada,” a college spokesperson said.

Fay Faraday, a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and an expert on immigration law, said “provincial withdrawal and underfunding of public institutions, including post-secondary institutions, are of this cycle of growing need to recruit students outside of Canada. »

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University of Toronto Vice-President Joseph Wong said in a recent message to members of that university community that “universities do not receive public funding for student housing, nor can they use student fees. education for this purpose.

“But we believe it is so important to provide students with suitable housing options that we have made the decision to take on debt to build these new residences,” he said in the post. “We are working with government partners to identify and hopefully remove key barriers so that we can build more residences even faster to support our students. »

Seneca Polytechnic told PKBNEWS that “from a financial perspective, operating grants to polytechnics and colleges in Ontario have not increased in over a decade. »

“Tuition fees were cut by 10 percent four years ago and have remained frozen ever since. The system is on an unsustainable financial path without a fiscally responsible framework that allows us to provide high quality education to all of our students.

Sheridan College said it also works to ensure students can secure off-campus housing, such as homestays, and also connects students with approved landlords on Places4Students – a database of safe housing data for students.

The question that remains is what it will take to build more.

For Faraday, there is no doubt that the blame attributed to international students is misplaced.

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“When we talk about international students, the focus should be on what we need to do to ease their transition to permanent status, ensure they obtain permanent status, and protect them throughout their educational and professional journey. This is the conversation we should be having, without blaming them for the fallout of provincial policies and laws in other areas, which they bear the brunt of.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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