International students: Will ‘testing’ Ontario’s higher education

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The survey highlighted concerns over colleges making deals with employers over graduate jobs

More than half of Ontario residents – 54% – believe the quality of the state university system has been hurt by international students, the province’s legislature has heard.

The public response to the report on the system comes as criticism of the international student population increases in other parts of Canada.

Some say students from outside the country come with low learning skills, and the system has been stretched in Ontario.

According to the federal government, there are close to 300,000 students studying abroad in Canada – and the Ontario system is projected to be third behind British Columbia and Alberta.

Canada is still trying to figure out what to do with this influx of foreign students.

Anger at salary and others

The Toronto Globe and Mail reported in August that several thousand students from other countries had returned from Ontario after attending a youth summer program.

Students in that program said they did not feel that attending and living in Ontario was worth the high cost of student loans.

In an email, a government spokesman told the BBC that unlike previous summers, the 2018-19 domestic youth program had “overwhelming support” from students.

“They [students] seemed to be based on two positives – being in Ontario and the fact that it’s nice to be in Canada,” he said.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Recent international students have returned to their homelands disappointed

However, the Ontario legislature has heard there is another issue for some international students.

The province’s survey found nearly a third of respondents said they believed more can be done to encourage employment outside of Canada for the students who stay behind.

Around 40% said their experience in the province had made them “better at” being an international student.

The problem is said to be that many Canadian colleges are tied to “professional associations and universities”, which in turn work to attract overseas students.

Parents may also feel put off by the high cost of education, which can reach $80,000 a year.

Perhaps the most contentious issue at the parliament has been the state of local post-secondary institutions such as the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, where 90% of students are international.


Professor Clement Gignac, from the University of Toronto’s faculty of law, said in a report on the quality of Canadian higher education that the state university system is deeply under-resourced.

“This leaves us with a deficit of teacher education, without adequate undergraduate scholarships and bursaries for low-income students and over-reliance on short-term fees.”

The Ontario system, however, remains far more international friendly than in other provinces.

The study on international students found 42% of those attending the University of Toronto were non-Canadians in a state where the overall percentage of international students was only 2%.

Manitoba and Quebec respectively have policies designed to restrict international students from accessing provincial education systems.

In August the Globe and Mail reported that more than 100 students had left the University of Toronto after taking part in a teacher training program run by BOCED, Ontario’s primary teacher training agency.

The agency has said the students felt BOCED’s project was an expensive, academic embarrassment and that it needed to be changed.

One student told the newspaper that she had not wanted to go through the procedure with the school but could not refuse its invitation because of the cost of the unpaid and oversold “experiential learning” courses.


This is not the first time the Ontario legislature has been tested over its ability to address issues.

In the past two sessions, concerns have been raised about how to hold universities to account for their performance.

In 2014, Premier Kathleen Wynne and her ministers answered questions in the assembly about their “commitment to accountability” at the universities and colleges, following accusations by an opposition MPP that schools may be paying “back fees” to former employees.

The Ontario opposition parties were also trying to hold the government to account on money spent on advertising campaigns to attract students.

At that time, Ms Wynne responded by promising to review how colleges and universities are run.

“We’re going to do the right thing,” she said.

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