After the federal government recently announced its plan to double the number of foreign post-secondary students by 2020, many are asking how Ottawa’s schools will manage the influx of new scholars.
While the government’s plan would see the high priced international student’s tuition help those schools in financial difficulty and economic decline, other schools are having to make significant plans to cushion the flood of foreign students while also maintaining open spaces for Canadian students.
“We have to keep an eye on our capacity, the infrastructure of the university but also the space in the classroom,” said professor Gary Slater, associate vice-president international at the University of Ottawa. “But international students are not taking the place of Canadian students, by any means.”
Of the schools that will have the most difficult time adapting to this new strategic plan is downtown, urban-centre schools who are already at or close to capacity, such as the University of Ottawa.
Prior to the government’s recent announcement, the University of Ottawa’s strategic plan stated they intend on doubling the number of international graduate students from 700 to 1,400 and increase the international undergraduate enrollment by 50 per cent from 1,500 to 2,250.
But according to Slater, the overall capacity isn’t the primary issue Ottawa schools are facing.
“One of the issues we’re facing with international students…international students want to study a very narrow range of topics,” said Slater. “Most of them want to study either business, or business related disciplines, or engineering and applied sciences.
“The challenge for many of us is to find international students that want to study other things where we have the capacity.”
Foreign students have been increasingly attractive to the government, as they pay full-freight tuition, spend a lot of their money on living costs while studying and make excellent candidates for immigration upon the completion of their degree.
In 2012, the government announced that Canada welcomed a record number of over 100,000 international students, a 60 per cent increase from 2004. Also, to support this growth the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade released a report in 2012 that stated that international students contribute more than $8 billion every year to the Canadian economy. According to the report, this translates into 86,570 jobs and $455 million in government tax revenue.
“By making the right investments and working with the right partners, we will create thousands of new jobs and add billions of dollars to our economy over the long term,” said Jim Flaherty in a statement released with the announcement.
“As we said in our report, international education is a key driver of the Canadian economy,” said Amit Chakma, chair of the advisory panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy. “This comprehensive strategy will strengthen Canada’s leadership position in this vital sector and deepen ties between Canadian and international postsecondary institutions”
According to a Maclean’s article released last year, Ontario led the country with 40.4 per cent of its student permits being designated to foreign students. However, since April of last year, the provincial government reduced university funding by $750 per head for its international students under what the province call the International Student Recovery scheme.
At the time of print, the University of Ottawa’s International Office states that international student undergraduate tuition fees range from $10,000-$12,000.
“The federal government is not putting a lot of money into this at the present time,” said Slater. “The money put in this exercise is not enough to make a huge difference.
“If we do not charge higher fees, we actually lose money with international students. In some cases, even with the higher fees, we lose money.”