BC: pressure on private providers; wants exemptions
British Columbia has said it will not approve any new post-secondary institutions seeking to enrol international students until February 2026.
The decision – coming days after federal government revealed a cap on student numbers and ended access to post-study work permits for students from public-private partnership institutions – will help to “eliminate exploitive practices and improve the quality of post-secondary education”, as well as safeguard international students in the province.
“International students come here for a good education, but too many are being exploited or taken advantage of,” said the province’s minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, Selina Robinson.
“That’s why we’re introducing more stringent requirements for institutions and robust safeguards to protect international students against bad actors, provide them with a better path to success, and make sure B.C. continues to attract the talented students we need to fill significant gaps in the labour market and drive our economy forward.”
The blame of exploitative practices has largely been heaped on private schools. Elsewhere the sector is appealing to the federal government for urgent consultations.
Of the 175,000 international post-secondary students from more than 150 countries in the province, around 82,000 international students are at public post-secondary institutions. The remaining 94,000 are at private post-secondary institutions.
Lawmakers said the province will enhance compliance and enforcement with “more frequent inspections of private post-secondary institutions to ensure that new and improved quality standards are met and that students are properly supported”.
Private degree programs will also need to meet higher standards for approval such as higher assessment criteria for degree quality, demonstrated labour-market need for graduates and appropriate resources and student supports.
Minimum language requirements at private training institutions will also ensure new international students are “better prepared for their educational and professional journey” in British Columbia.
In a bid to help international students be prepared financially during their studies, public post-secondary institutions in the province will be required to post tuition levels for students for the entire time they are studying.
Federal government raised the amount of money prospective students need to show if they wish to study in Canada to $20,635 in January. Designed to help them “understand the true cost of living here”, federal government said it would ensure students are successful in Canada.
Public institutions will also be set expectations for maximum international student enrolment levels in the province. They will develop and implement international education strategic plans that “guide the institution’s activities, manage its enrolment level within the target and plan support services to meet the needs of students”, the province said.
British Columbia – which will be prescribed the total international study permit allotments by federal government based on overall population size – said further improvements are anticipated for the coming year.
These will “better align programs with B.C.’s labour-market needs and continue to strengthen protections for students to prevent exploitation”, the government said.
With around 14% of Canada’s population, estimates suggest British Columbia is expected to receive some 50,000 study permits in 2024.
As the most populous province, Ontario could see its study permits limited to around 140,000, followed by Quebec with 83,000. Alberta, home to around 12% of the country’s population, could expect 43,000.
Other provinces with fewer residents can expect fewer study permits still. These figures have not been confirmed as IRCC had not responded to requests for comment before publication.
International education organisations that have schools in various provinces have voiced concerns about how study permit caps will be rolled out – whether private providers will miss out in favour of public institutions.
“How [the provinces] do this cap is a great concern and worry to us,” president North America for Oxford International Education Group, Sharon Curl, told The PIE last week.
Today Universities Canada and CiCan have written to the federal immigration minister urging the department to delay the letter of attestation requirement for college and undergraduate study permit applications – which was imposed immediately last week – until “at least March 31”.
BC premier David Eby told CBC that the cap could have negative implications for the province.
“The number of international students we’ve seen in BC is too high. The challenge is we’re not able to guarantee those students the kind of experiences they deserve,” he said.
“But we need to do this together [with federal government].”
BC needs skilled workers, such as in healthcare, and public institutions are being supported by international student tuition fees to deliver services to domestic students, he added.
Over the weekend, BC received initial figures from the federal government as to how many permits it would be allocated, but Eby did not confirm how many that would be in the interview.
“Unless there are exemptions where we need people, it is going to be a major challenge”
“So much depends on whether there are exemptions [from the cap] for the key sectors where BC particularly needs folks to come in, bring their skilled trades, experience and enthusiasm. The numbers will apply broadly but unless there are exemptions where we need people, it is going to be a major challenge.”
Universities Canada and CiCan also pressed the federal government for urgent consultations with the sector to “modify the cap policy”.
Eby added that the province will not hesitate to strip any institutions that are not meeting standards – “particularly true for the private schools” – of their licence to provide post-secondary education in the province.
BC will address any funding issues institutions may be faced with “as they come up”, he noted, adding that 2020/21 international student numbers were “manageable” and institutions could subsidise operating budgets. “It doesn’t strike me that it should be hard to get back to that,” Eby concluded.
Chairperson of British Columbia Federation of Students suggested that acknowledgment by Robinson that international education in British Columbia needs more oversight is “an important first step”.
“International students need and deserve more protections when they come to Canada,” Melissa Chirino said.
“We look forward to working with the minister over the coming weeks to discuss our vision for a public post-secondary system that is forward thinking and enables our institutions to adapt and thrive and deliver quality education to today’s and tomorrow’s learners as they were intended to.”
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