Ford Government Restores Wynne-era Moratorium, Amid federal measures that are projected to cause a drop in international student enrollment in Ontario, there is rising pressure on Premier Doug Ford’s government to enhance post-secondary education spending.
Ford Government Restores Wynne-era Moratorium on Public-Private College Partnerships
The Ford administration announced additional measures on Friday to “protect students and improve the integrity of Ontario’s post-secondary education.” According to Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop, these will include a prohibition on new public-private college collaborations.
What critics say was absent was the province’s commitment to increase post-secondary financing. Public-private college collaborations have witnessed the most rapid growth in overseas enrollment in recent years.
The Ontario government has approved the arrangements, which allow graduates of private colleges to obtain public college degrees as well as highly sought-after post-graduate work permits. However, there are rising worries about the quality of education provided by some of the private partners.
In 2017, the former provincial Liberal government, led by Premier Kathleen Wynne, imposed a ban on these public-private partnerships and gave the four public colleges involved two years to cease operations. Ford’s government abruptly switched course after being elected the following year.
There was little information concerning the province’s new initiatives, although they include:
- Adding extra oversight to the approval process for all postsecondary international student programs;
- Integrating enforcement efforts across ministries to improve control of career institutions and ensure timely answers to issues and complaints; and
- requiring all schools and institutions to ensure that accommodation choices are accessible for incoming overseas students.
The province’s revisions come only days after the federal government put a new cap on the number of international students admitted to Canada as part of a package of reforms.
More than half of Canada’s overseas students study in Ontario, and the province’s colleges and universities are projected to suffer the most.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, Daniel Tisch, warned on Friday that the federal cap could cut study permits in half, jeopardizing the province’s reputation as a leading global destination for study and work, as well as harming Ontario’s labor market, post-secondary education, and regional economies.
“We urge federal and provincial policymakers to find a more common-sense approach, including implementing the recommendations from Ontario’s Blue-Ribbon Panel report, which highlights the precarious financial state of post-secondary education,” Tisch said in a statement.
Dunlop said the provincial government is still reviewing a report released in November by a blue-ribbon panel it formed to examine the financial future of post-secondary institutions, which urged Queen’s Park to allow colleges and universities to raise tuition by 5% this fall and increase funding to post-secondary schools by 10% in 2024-25.
The research stated that in 2021-22, Ontario’s financing per college student was $6,891, which was 44% of the number for the rest of Canada ($15,615). Universities earned $11,471 per student, or 57% of the average for the rest of Canada ($20,772).
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, which represents 17,000 university faculty and academic librarians, claims the province has missed the mark by focusing its new measures on post-secondary institutions, which have become reliant on international tuition revenues in the face of declining government funding.
“Ontario needs international students, but universities need more funding from the government to provide the support that international — and domestic — students need to succeed inside and outside the classroom,” said Nigmendra Narain, the president of the association. “The ministry has not provided any tools to do this with these proposals.”
Mike Schreiner, Ontario Green Party leader and MPP for Guelph has remarked that mandating housing without a funding commitment to help universities and colleges pay for it is “smoke and mirrors.”
“Right now, students and institutions alike are being thrown into chaos because of this government’s act-now-think-later approach to policy,” Schreiner told the news conference. “Instead of merely passing the buck, why doesn’t the government work with universities and colleges to address the housing crisis students are facing by increasing funding and committing dedicated resources?”
However, two industry groups representing the public and private college sectors welcomed the Ontario government’s proposal.
“For many years, we have worked constructively with the provincial government and across our sector to improve student protections and supports, as well as to deepen program alignment with labor market needs,” said Marketa Evans, president, and CEO of Colleges Ontario, which represents the province’s 24 public colleges.
“We continue to collaborate with the government and local communities to provide support and services to international students. We have been actively working on new housing solutions and look forward to collaborating with Minister Dunlop on these vital issues.
Michael Sangster, CEO of the National Association of Career Colleges, stated, “We welcome regulation and oversight that will validate the contributions our members make to Ontario’s economy.”
Dunlop stated that the province will ensure that programs offered by colleges and universities fit the needs of the employment market, allowing students to make a life in Ontario after completing their studies.
Ontario will collaborate with sector partners and the federal government to investigate methods to further crack down on bad-actor recruiters who exploit international students and make false claims of employment and citizenship, she said.
“We must find more ways to work together to combat gross recruitment practices while protecting our ability to attract the world’s best and brightest to study here in Ontario,” Dunlop said. “These efforts will also ensure that we execute realistic policies to address Ontario’s home affordability concerns. We need to make sure that kids coming to study here have a place to stay.”
On Monday, Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller stated that Canada would impose a two-year limit on international study permits, to decrease the number awarded by 35% from last year’s level to 364,000. Students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs, as well as primary and secondary schools, will be exempt from the cap; the admission level will be evaluated in 2025.
Starting September 1, Ottawa will also stop awarding post-graduation work permits to international students who finish programs offered through public-private college partnerships, bringing international enrollment in these programs to an end.
In an email to the Star, the federal Immigration Department stated that the cap on new study permits is necessary for the rest of Canada’s international education program and that Minister Miller had indicated “for some time” that changes were required from the post-secondary education sector and the provinces.
“The Government of Canada expects designated learning institutions to only accept the number of students that they can reasonably support, including providing housing options for them,” the government said in a statement. “It is clear that the number of students arriving in Canada has become unsustainable.”