Foreign students are ‘cash cows’ for Canadian universities
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Foreign students are ‘cash cows’ for Canadian universities

Universities across Ontario, Canada, are relying more on international students and the billions they bring in fees to make up for the freeze of funds from the provincial government, according to research by CBC News.

The number of international students in Ontario universities is rising exponentially, with an 88.5 percent jump since 2010, while local student enrolment only saw a seven percent growth, figures from the Advanced Education and Skills Development Ministry show.

In money terms, these foreign students are bringing in billions in Canadian dollars; from 2015-16, total revenue from their fees stood at CAD1.28 billion, a figure more than double what it was four years ago (CAD620 million in 2011-2012).

“They’re using international students as cash cows, unfortunately,” Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario chairman Nour Alideeb told CBC News.

Universities “add international students to top up the amount of funding they’re actually missing,” Nour said, referring to the cuts in provincial government funding.

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Nationwide, international students pump around CAD11 billion per year into the country’s economy. Source: Shutterstock

Grants by the province to Ontario universities are now down to just 40 percent of operating revenue in 2015-16, dropping from 46 percent in 2011-12, according to the Council of Ontario Universities’ most recent financial report for 2015-16. For the past decade, the total operating grants have effectively been frozen.

“Universities are relying more and more over time on tuition revenue versus government grants,” the report wrote, echoing a similar trend with US universities ramping up their international enrolment to make up for the cuts in state funds.

Nationwide, international students pump around CAD11 billion per year into the country’s economy, research by the federal government estimates. Nearly half (CAD5.4 billion) of that is spent in Ontario.

This stream of billions is due to the country being a firm favourite among foreign students – a spot it increasingly enjoys as it projects a liberal, migrant-friendly image compared to its competitors such as the US and UK.

Canadian Bureau for International Education research suggests the country’s image of a “tolerant and non-discriminatory society” is one of its biggest selling point.

But while these students laud the quality of education and welcoming community, not all are happy to be slapped with a heftier price tag compared to their local peers.

“It definitely doesn’t feel fair to have such a huge discrepancy,” says India-born Pratishtha Kohli, an international student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

“It’s not like I get any preferential treatment.”

University of Toronto justifies its fees on the basis it is what other research-intensive universities worldwide are charging. Its executive director of enrolment services, Richard Levin, says it pays for the extra requirements as well.

“There are extra supports, there’s help with language, there’s additional orientation,” Levin told CBC News. 

“It’s important the university provides a really good experience for international students if we want to continue to recruit them.”

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