Fears that international student intake will keep falling

Not much new but nevertheless worth reading:

Canada suffered a year-on-year drop of between 20% and 30% in international student enrolment between the 2019-20 academic year and the 2020-21 academic year because of the COVID crisis.

The absence of 65,000 international students is already affecting local economies, university budgets and research in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

But university and college administrators, and non-governmental organisations involved with bringing international students to Canada are concerned that travel rules introduced in February 2021 to restrict the spread of COVID-19 will further depress the numbers of international students coming to Canada, both this spring and in September.  

Since this February, international flights to Canada can land only in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, and travellers have been required to be quarantined at designated hotels.  

According to Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, these new regulations have disproportionately impacted colleges and universities in smaller cities and rural and remote areas because students must serve the entirety of their quarantine at the government-approved hotels.  

“There’s no designated airport in Atlantic Canada,” she notes. International students destined for universities in this region must first quarantine in a hotel at one of the hubs at a cost of CA$2,000 (US$1,600).

“This is very costly, especially for an international student,” Amyot says.  

In addition, once the student travels to their destination university in, say, Halifax, Nova Scotia, or Quebec City, they will have to quarantine again. While the final tallies are not in, Amyot says, because of these two layers of quarantine, we are seeing a large number of deferrals for the spring, summer and upcoming fall intakes.

International students whose universities are near one of the designated airports must quarantine in the government-approved hotels for at least three days, the period it normally takes to receive COVID-19 test results. If they test negative, and if their school has a plan approved by the local health authority and the federal government, the student can be taken to a quarantine centre on his or her school’s campus.  

In an effort to lessen the financial burden on international students, the University of Waterloo in southwestern Ontario picks up the cost for days four through to 14 for students who quarantine on its main campus in Kitchener, Ontario. 

“The cost,” says University of Waterloo Associate Vice Provost Chris Read, “is about CA$2,000 and includes transportation from the airport, accommodation and food”. This programme explains why the university’s year-over-year enrolment of international students has remained stable at 8,861 in 2020-21 compared with 8,897 the year before. 

Concerns about international students’ mental health has prompted the University of Calgary to include a Zoom-based buddy system in its quarantine programme. The buddies are not counsellors, says Dean and Vice-Provost Dr Robin Yates, but are peer volunteers, “a friendly face who will keep them company”.

For its part, in addition to providing quarantine space in its dormitories, the University of Toronto has established a CA$9.1 million (US$7.2 million) fund to help international students pay for the period of time they have to quarantine in a hotel.

The financial impact resulting from the absence of international students is being felt across the country and is affecting the bottom line of universities and colleges, according to Professor Robert Falconer of the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

“Across the country, with a few exceptions, universities are relying more and more on international students as a primary source of revenue. British Columbia is most exposed with over 50% of its tuition revenue coming from international students,” he says. 

The differential rates charged to international students varies, but, Falconer told University World News, “it is quite significant”. At Falconer’s university, tuition and fees for international students in the sciences is CA$8,000 (US$6,400) a year, while it is CA$3,000 for domestic students. 

The figure is even greater at the University of Waterloo. Tuition fees for domestic students enrolled in graduate studies in architecture are CA$10,900 as compared to CA$59,700 (US$47,600) for international students. In the faculties of applied health sciences and art, the tuition fees for each group are CA$7,700 and CA$40,900, respectively. 

According to Yates of the University of Calgary, the differential paid by international students is vital. “It helps institutions to be able to offer programmes, especially smaller institutions, that they would not have been able to afford otherwise, either because the schools did not have enough money or enough domestic students to be able to offer that programme.”

Marco Mendicino, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, could not have been blunter. “If we didn’t have international students, we would have a gaping hole in our economy. They contribute CA$21 billion [US$16.7 billion] to the Canadian economy as compared to CA$19 billion contributed by the automotive industry,” he says.

“This contribution might not be noticed in larger centres, but in small university towns like the University of Lethbridge [Alberta] or in Thunder Bay [Lakehead University], Ontario, they have a large impact through renting homes and buying goods and services,” says Falconer. 

Threat to STEM programmes

Falconer, Yates, Amyot and the other experts University World Newsinterviewed were especially concerned with how the decline in the number of international graduate students threatens Canada’s STEM programmes.

Of the 2,000 international graduate students at the University of Calgary, some 400 have requested deferrals and have remained in their home countries.  

According to Yates, about 200 are studying remotely. In his immunology lab, Yates told University World News that while certain tasks, such as data analysis, can be done remotely for a month or two, at some point you have to go back into the lab to generate more data.  

“Graduate students comprise a significant part of the workforce doing meaningful research that is pushing the research agenda forward for Canada. Anywhere between 20% and 80% of any given research group is composed of graduate students and on average a little more than one third of these students are international graduate students.”

Yates’ University of Calgary colleague, Falconer, is concerned that the brain drain in the STEM fields will hobble Canada’s post-COVID recovery. 

“The OECD countries are considering what a post-COVID industrial policy, and research and development policy looks like. We have to consider [whether without these students] we even have the staffing and personnel industrial base to facilitate a post-COVID industrial economy?” he asks.

To the question, especially in a pandemic, of why Canadian taxpayers should be funding graduate schools that educate international students, Yates answered: “To drive research agendas and move our research forward, we need the best and brightest from across the globe. The taxpayers deserve when they spend millions of dollars on research that that money be spent in the best way possible. And that is to get the best people here into Canada.”

It is important, Yates adds, that people understand that the pure or applied research that international graduate students undertake in labs like his undergirded the creation of the vaccines against COVID-19.  

“The PhDs that come out of these programmes are making and designing these vaccines. The workforces that are in AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer are sourced from graduate programmes and these include international students,” he says.

Corridor kept open

Minister Mendicino, Falconer and Amyot each emphasised that unlike similar countries such as Australia, Canada has kept the corridor for international students open because of the long-term importance of international students to the country.  

At present 25% of Canadians are older than 65, which means that for each retired person there are fewer than three working and paying into the social insurance system and taxes.  

“Canada needs immigration. We need people to decide to live here because we have such a low [1.5] fertility rate,” says Amyot.  

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic,” says Mendicino, “we have kept the international programme open, and we have improved it.” 

The four improvements, Mendicino explained to University World News, amount to a ladder, at the top of which international students can apply for permanent residency and, ultimately, citizenship.  

The first improvement allowed international students to start their studies online in their home country. 

The second changed the international students’ work permits to give them the right to work in fields other than their course of study. 

The third was keeping open the corridor, which required planning with universities and colleges, and, negotiating agreements with the provinces; this last always a fraught activity in the fractious Canadian federation. 

The fourth improvement provides additional work permit flexibility to postgraduate students so as not to penalise them for starting their programmes online. Once they have graduated and found jobs, thousands of (former) international students apply for permanent residency.

“What I see as minister is an opportunity to broaden and accelerate the pathways that not only allow international students to come and study but also to stay in Canada and build the next chapter of their lives in Canada,” says Mendicino, who himself is the child of Italian immigrants.

Source: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post-nl.php?story=20210402091353306

ICYMI: Canada’s schools draw fewer international students due to pandemic travel rules

Seeing this in the monthly stats:

Many international students have postponed or cancelled their plans to study in Canada since Ottawa decided last month to limit entry options to the country to just four airports and require international travellers to pay for a mandatory hotel quarantine.

Denise Amyot, the chief executive officer of Colleges and Institutes Canada, said a $2,000 hotel bill is the cost of half of a semester for many students.

“(They) don’t have that kind of means,” she said.

If a group of international students are heading to New Brunswick, for example, Amyot said they might arrive in Toronto, where they would go to a hotel for three days as part of a 14-day quarantine.

Then, because they will be moving to another province with its own rules, they will have to quarantine again for 14 days when they arrive in New Brunswick.

“This is nonsense. It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It means that for the spring and summer, we have a large number of deferrals.”

Amyot said the number of international students at Canadian colleges has declined by 20 to 30 per cent in the 2020-21 academic year compared to 2019-20.

“It has varied across the country, and we had larger declines in smaller cities and rural and remote areas.”

She said many international students are deferring their plans to study in Canada since the federal government funnelled all international flights to Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver and began requiring travellers to quarantine at government-approved hotels.

“Those two measures that the government has put in place are jeopardizing the number of students arriving,” she said.

Amyot called on the government to exempt international students from the three-day stopover requirement.

The office of Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement that any decision to ease or modify border measures in Canada will be based on scientific evidence.

“Entry prohibitions, coupled with mandatory isolation and quarantine, continue to be the most effective means of limiting the introduction of new cases of COVID-19 into Canada at this time,” the statement said.

Even before the new entry restrictions were imposed, the total number of all international students in Canada had already declined by about 17 per cent last year, to 531,000 students at the end of 2020 from 639,000 in 2019, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada data.

Paul Davidson, the chief executive officer of Universities Canada, said the overall enrolment of international students at Canadian universities has declined by 2.1 per cent this year compared to last.

“It’s against a backdrop where typically the number of international students at universities has grown at over 10 per cent in each of the last five years, so it is quite a setback,” he said.

“We have 96 universities at Universities Canada, and 51 of those institutions saw a decline in the international students … Overall, 26 institutions saw a loss of over 10 per cent of their international students.”

Fewer international students in Canadian post-secondary schools means less revenue for these institutions, which will affect domestic students, said Amyot.

“It means that there will be less programs that can be offered,” she said.

“It’s not only a matter of dollars … There are some programs that are very popular with international students, but not so much for domestic students, and that’s especially in more technical areas linked to engineering or mining … Now (these programs) won’t be offered, because there’s not enough students.”

Amyot said the decrease in international student numbers will eventually create a gap in the labour force in Canada.

“(International students) also come with skills,” she said. “It means that there will be a gap because we won’t be able to count on those students, and who will suffer? The industry, because there will be a labor shortage.”

She said Canadian colleges and universities have used innovation to allow international students to complete their studies online.

Robert Falconer, a researcher at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, said international students studying online at Canadian schools from their home countries might lose interest in immigrating to Canada.

“They might decide, after getting their Canadian degree, that they’re not going to really bother coming to Canada because they’ve never been, they don’t have prospects here and no social network or job opportunities.”

Amyot said education institutions had quarantine plans in the fall for their international students, letting them go to their quarantine locations safely. Local public health authorities and the provincial and federal governments approved.

“It was working very well for the fall intake, but now with this new measure that was taken in place, everything is in the air,” she said.

Davidson said all international students, from kindergartners to PhDs, contribute about $22 billion a year to Canada’s economy.

“It’s a major contributor to Canada’s economic growth,” he said. “The decline in international student numbers is having a widespread economic impact in Canada.”

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government has encouraged international students to stay in Canada during the pandemic.

“While other countries told international students to go home during the pandemic, we went to great lengths to support them and create a system that allowed them to continue their studies,” Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

The department has tried to make it easier for international students to apply for work permits after they graduate, including counting the time they spend studying online toward the period of time needed to make them eligible, for instance.

Davidson said the United States is reducing barriers to immigration for international students and the government of the United Kingdom is marketing to international students and expediting visa processing for them.

“This is a competitive landscape we’re working in,” he said. “The government of the U.K. is offering guaranteed visa approvals (for international students) in about three weeks, which is much faster than Canada.”

Source: Canada’s schools draw fewer international students due to pandemic travel rules

‘Billions of dollars are at risk.’ Colleges and universities scramble to protect international student sector amid COVID-19 pandemic

The “education industry” concerns along with the students affected:

When Maria Olaifa was accepted into Fanshawe College’s marketing management program for May she was thrilled, eager to pack her belongings and leave her native Philippines.

But her plans to study at the London, Ont., college were abruptly halted due to travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the global COVID-19 health crisis.

“My country has closed its borders and flights are not available,” said Olaifa, 32, of Cebu City. Even if she could come, she’s not sure she would.

“I am afraid to be in a country where I do not know anyone and have nowhere to go during this pandemic,” she told the Star. “I don’t think it would be mentally healthy for me to go to a place for the first time, alone with all these problems.”

Olaifa is among a growing number of international students who intended to come to Canada in the next few months, but are now deferring study plans.

Border closures, flight cancellations, shuttered language testing sites and closed visa offices are posing major challenges. It’s too early to say how many students have deferred or outright cancelled study plans — even those with valid study permits. But a significant decrease in the number of international students at Canadian colleges and universities — a segment that’s been booming in recent years — would deliver a financial blow to schools that rely on their hefty tuition fees as a revenue source.

International students contribute $6 billion a year just in tuition at Canadian universities, but their economic impact extends beyond the campus. Government figures show that in 2018 they pumped $21.6 billion into schools, communities and the broader Canadian economy. As of Dec. 31, 2019, there were 498,735 post-secondary international students in Canada, a 14.5 per cent increase from 2018.

As the health crisis drags on, colleges and universities are asking the federal government to allow international students to do online courses while in their own country.

The federal policy typically stipulates that international students must attend most classes in-person to receive a Post-Graduation Work Permit — but there have been recent updates. Those currently in Canada can now do e-learning and have it count towards their work permit, since in-person classes are temporarily cancelled. And on Tuesday the federal government said international students with a study permit for a program starting in May or June, but who can’t get here because of travel restrictions, can complete up to 50 per cent of it online without it impacting eligibility for a work permit.

Kevin Lemkay, press secretary for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, told the Star officials will continue assessing the impact of the current situation and make further adjustments as needed.

President and CEO Denise Amyot of Colleges and Institutes Canada, which represents publicly funded colleges, institutes, CEGEPs and polytechnics, said “important decisions” can now be made about the spring/summer intake. But the fact students can only complete up to 50 per cent of their program outside Canada is too limiting, she said. That means a student in an eight-month postgraduate program would need to be in Canada by the fall.

“We are all faced with a high degree of uncertainty as to how long the pandemic will last and when borders will open, and so we are asking students to make important decisions with incomplete information,” she said, adding they shouldn’t be penalized if unable to travel to Canada.

Amyot’s focus is on supporting international students here or on their way over — those approved for a study permit by March 18 when travel restrictions took effect can still enter Canada if they can get here. But she’s also keeping a close watch abroad, where some language testing and visa offices are closed and has asked the government to loosen testing rules and relax biometric requirements at visa application centres.

“The evolving nature of the situation requires that we engage in constructive dialogue and quickly find solutions to emerging issues, including those related to the ongoing processing of study permits given continued service disruptions.”

For those hoping to start college in September, wondering if they too can do e-learning, Amyot will continue asking the government “for flexibility and for similar measures to be put in place for the fall.”

Paul Davidson, president and CEO of Universities Canada, which advocates for Canadian universities at the federal level, is looking to the fall intake. That’s when 50 per cent of international students enrol in universities and because now is when many are making decisions about where they’ll study in September.

“(If the infection) curve is not flattened, and in the event that visa processing takes a little longer, we would very much like to be able to onboard students online in the fall — its in the realm of contingency planning at this point,” said Davidson. “We want to do everything we can to make sure that Canada is a welcoming place … These next six to eight weeks are critical in terms of what the onboarding and the pipeline will look like for the fall for international students.”

“Billions of dollars are at risk if we’re not able to enrol international students in September,” he said, noting for some universities international students contribute 50 per cent of tuition revenue.

Online registration “will keep the door open to international students to come when it is safe to do so and feasible to do so, in terms of permits and processing.” And, he said, international student enrolment allows schools to offer more courses and labs, which also benefits domestic students.

Cindy McIntyre, assistant director of international relations for Universities Canada, called Tuesday’s announcement a “good first step,” but noted it doesn’t address the fall intake. She said she expects a decision about that cohort will be made “within weeks.”

The British company QS Quacquarelli Symonds, which analyzes global higher education, surveyed 14,416 prospective international students worldwide on the impact of the coronavirus. Among the 2,846 originally planning to come to Canada, 54 per cent intended to defer entry by a year, 9 per cent wanted to study in a different country and 6 per cent wanted to stay in their home country. Cumulatively, the number of lost applicants for Canada — those choosing another country or opting to remain home — is 15 per cent, which is similar to the United Kingdom. By comparison, it is 26 per cent for the European Union, 14 per cent for the United States, and 13 per cent for Australia.

In recent weeks Earl Blaney, a London, Ont., immigration consultant who is an education agent in the Philippines, has had several dozen clients request deferrals for the spring/summer and fall intakes. They were set to attend colleges such as Niagara, Lambton, Georgian, Conestoga, Seneca and Centennial.

He commended the government for giving students set to begin their programs in May or June the flexibility of doing online studies, but noted “it would have been a sensible announcement three weeks ago.”

The “late notice” means many students have likely already made arrangements to travel here and quit jobs back home, while many schools have “initiated a flood of deferral offers to students from May to September.”

“Had this option been available three weeks ago, it would have prevented large losses to the education industry. Schools no longer have the time to market May intake under these circumstances.”

For many international students, one of their biggest concerns is being eligible for a work permit. Blaney suggested Canada — a top choice worldwide — can remain competitive by temporarily letting students enrol in programs from abroad and still issuing work permits upon completion so they can eventually come and work here.

“(That) would allow tuition revenue to keep flowing during this time, and keep everyone safe … It is not meant to be long-term, rather a model of accommodation for both sides.”

A longer-term decision should be made as quickly as possible, he added, because it could impact whether prospective students see Canada as a viable option for 2021 since many start thinking of possible countries, schools and programs a year in advance.

Even for students who can enter Canada — those issued permits before March 18 — Blaney questioned if it’s wise to come, saying it will be tough for schools to accommodate them for the upcoming spring/summer intake because residences are closed and there’s limited staff to assist them.

“International intakes are usually all-hands-on-deck affairs,” said Blaney, referring to in-depth orientation sessions. “In this set of circumstances, students arrive blind and struggle to find their own accommodation. What’s the advantage? Schools get to cash student admission cheques, while the new students get to sit in isolation while taking online studies? Brutal welcome.”

Centennial College teacher RM Kennedy, also chair of the faculty division at OPSEU representing 17,000 unionized college faculty, worries about potential job loss, noting “If enrolment is down, we could see hundreds of contract faculty not being re-employed.”

There’s also a concern about revenue loss, said Kennedy, adding, “We’ve had decades of underfunding and the whole international strategy was designed to make up that shortfall…Without that revenue the colleges are going to take an enormous hit.”

The policy update on Tuesday “may alleviate some short-term financial pressure but it doesn’t address the need to properly fund and rebuild the college system going forward,” said Kennedy, pointing out it’s unclear if international students will even enrol in online programs.

Another concern is that international students invest a great deal in Canadian education and the opportunity to eventually get work permits and permanent residency.

“The exception is currently only for the summer semester, but what if shutdowns continue through the fall?” asked Kennedy. “If we accept international students, we have an ethical responsibility to support them through the completion of their studies with the ability to enter the country and get (work permits).”

International student Amey Jadhav, 27, who is doing a bachelor of business administration program at a Toronto college, was visiting family in India when Canada closed its borders. He could have returned, but decided to skip the upcoming term, despite not knowing how that would impact eligibility for a work permit, which is key because it will help him recoup study costs. He’s completed about half of his program, which costs about $54,000 in total.

“Online courses are a very thoughtful and viable option as it saves time that otherwise would have (been) wasted,” he said, but noted that in-person learning is “much more interactive.”

As for Olaifa, she’s “very happy” those scheduled to start in May or June can do online learning that’s eligible for a work permit. But she’s frustrated the announcement was just made, saying she couldn’t afford to wait for a decision and had to defer study plans until September.

Olaifa has a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman and is currently working as a project director at an advertising agency. Her dream was to complete the one-year graduate certificate program at Fanshawe, which costs $16,000, then get a work permit, and apply for residency. It’s unclear if that dream will become a reality — or if she’ll even pursue her studies in the fall.

“As for online classes, personally, it is not the best time for me to study right now because of the uncertainties.”

Source: ‘Billions of dollars are at risk.’ Colleges and universities scramble to protect international student sector amid COVID-19 pandemic