On January 22, the federal government announced its plan to cap international study permits being issued, for two years, beginning in September 2024. The cap will reduce the current number of study permits by 35%, approving approximately 360,000 undergraduate student permits for 2024 and allotting them to provinces and territories, to distribute, based on population size.
The British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS) applauds the federal government for taking action to stop the exploitation faced by international students at post-secondary institutions. However, the BCFS is concerned about the lack of coordination between the federal and provincial governments to begin regulating the exploitation occurring in the business of international education, and the absence of a plan that addresses what these changes mean for Canada’s public post-secondary system.
We know it is critical for the provincial government to address moving away from a post-secondary funding model that overly depends on international student tuition fees to fund the system. We urge the BC Government to restore funding to levels that ensure the operational budgets of institutions are not tied to the number of international students they can recruit. Solely limiting international student visas without an infusion of provincial funding for the post-secondary education system will not fix the root cause of the problem.
“It is important to remember that years of underfunding in both the public housing and post-secondary sectors cannot and should not be blamed on international students,” said Melissa Chirino, Chairperson of the British Columbia Federation of Students. “Decades of underfunding has resulted in a funding model that is fragile to the point of breaking.”
Students across the province have been waiting for the release of the BC Government’s sector-wide review of how it funds BC’s 25 public post-secondary institutions since March 2022. On average, international students in post-secondary pay 4 to 5 times more than their domestic peers. The BCFS and other stakeholders have been sounding the alarm for years that the dependence of the public post-secondary education system on international student tuition fees would cause a crisis. In 2023, the BCFS published a research document, International Education in British Columbia: Keeping the Post-secondary System Afloat, that clearly outlined the problems of unfettered growth in the international education system and how it decimates resilience in the system.
Student advocates have long asked, what happens if international students choose not to, or are unable to study in Canada. The Federation’s research reaffirms its worries and sheds light on the numerous impacts caused by decreased international enrollment experienced during the pandemic.
“While this announcement is an important step towards ending the exploitation of students and regulating unsustainable growth in the international education sector, we also know that this will affect our members across the province in a variety of ways,” said Chirino. “We are working in partnership with our member local students’ unions to understand what this announcement means for their institutions, our members, and what it means for the communities that house them.”
The path to reducing the exploitation of international students and to restore resiliency to the public post-secondary system in Canada is one in the same. We must increase public funding so that our institutions are no longer dependent on international student tuition fees to keep the lights on, provide services to students, and so they are able to deliver quality education to learners as they were intended to.
Now is the time for the provincial government to show their commitments to our post-secondary education system; it must have a strong foundation to ensure all students can access high quality and affordable education.
The Federation will continue to closely monitor federal and provincial announcements and is taking time to reach out to our members and partners around the province to get a better sense of the impacts we may see on our campuses and at our institutions. Keep an eye out for more updates to come.
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