ontario colleges

The government has concerns over Ontario colleges' reliance on international student tuition

According to the latest numbers, colleges in Ontario are relying perhaps far too heavily on revenue from international students, which officials believe is not a tenable model — something made more obvious by the lack of such students amid the pandemic.

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said this week that the fact that a whopping 68 per cent of all tuition fee revenue for the province's public colleges comes from overseas puts them in a "precarious position" and is a "risky" way for them to continue operating.

"Direct provincial funding per full-time-equivalent domestic public college student in Ontario for 2018/19 was the lowest in Canada," Lysyk writes in a new report on the topic, noting "a significant reliance on international student enrolment to subsidize the provincial costs of domestic students' education and colleges' administrative and capital expenditures."

It is no secret that international student fees are far higher than those for Canadian cohorts — nearly five times as much, the report shows — but the fact that this revenue is the main source of revenue for schools begs a question about more public funding.

Colleges cite "chronic underfunding" from the provincial government, which has meant that they would not be able to run without the pricey tuition from students from abroad, most of whom come to study from India.

International student populations are indeed growing, pandemic era notwithstanding, thanks in part to schools' targeted recruitment efforts in the midst of declining domestic attendance numbers.

As the report notes, public colleges in the province saw a 15 per cent drop in domestic student enrolment between 2012-13 and 2020-21, versus a 342 per cent growth in international student enrolments in the same time period.

The potential for student visa requirements and political circumstances worldwide to change at any time, and for unforeseen issues that hinder immigration, such as COVID-19, is cause for concern, Lysyk says.

She also notes a number of other issues with the province's public college system and its funding, including outdated or non-existent program standards and potential disadvantages for domestic students.

"The Ministry lacks a formal and comprehensive long-term strategy and action plan to sufficiently mitigate the risks this high reliance on international student enrolments poses to the public college sector," it concludes.

"As well, the Ministry does not monitor student application data for oversubscribed programs to confirm domestic students continue to have access to public colleges."

Lead photo by

Scott Norsworthy

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