How IRCC’s policies impact student housing and the future of education in Canada
The recent announcement by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada concerning changes in policies for international students has sparked a significant conversation across Canada and the world.
These changes, while aimed at ensuring a sustainable and high-quality experience for international students, also raise questions about accessibility, diversity, and the future of Canada’s reputation as a leading educational destination. Various stakeholders, including the government, educational entities, and media have voiced their opinions – however, the perspective of student housing providers has been less heard.
As a leader in the student housing market, and given our exponential growth in Canada, I believe it’s crucial to share our insights on the immediate and long-term impacts of these policies on student housing.
The cap on study permits: a housing perspective
The decision to cap and reduce the number of study permits issued is a significant shift in Canada’s approach to international education. From a housing provider’s perspective, this cap presents a mixed bag. We understand the effort to reduce pressure on the housing market, which has seen demand increasingly exceed supply.
However, this problem has existed for a long time. Since the early 90s, the private sector has taken on more responsibility in the creation of new housing inventory, but development has not kept pace with increasing demand, particularly for social and affordable housing. The challenges associated with playing catch-up on the supply-demand imbalance with housing are not only financial.
The labour required to produce housing at scale is staggering, and Canada’s pool of skilled tradespeople is simply too small to respond with the urgency required. Where shall we look then, to increase our building capacity? International students now make up very significant proportions of student bodies at most post-secondary institutions in Canada.
They provide financial support to the educational system and are a key source of the skilled labour needed to tackle the challenges associated with the strained housing system (the same case can be made for health care, and public services that are particularly popular programs among international students.).
The new policies, including the cap on study permits and revised financial requirements for international students, have a direct impact not only on students but also on businesses and communities that cater to them. Estimates of the financial impact of international students on the Canadian economy range from $22 – $35 billion per year.
This is clearly an important sector that warrants a nuanced and multi-stakeholder approach. With more targeted restrictions, investments, and smart policy, international students can serve as a net benefit for the housing sector. While recognising the necessity of the legislation, a one-size-fits-all approach may not have been the most effective solution.
Many great schools, both public and private that provide excellent education and services to students would be impacted because of a few so-called “bad actors”. It also will lead to a higher tuition cost impacting domestic students who are subsidised by higher tuition fees paid by international students. The government must come up with solutions to bridge the deficit while this policy stays in effect to fund the institutions.
It’s essential for housing companies in the industry to adapt and explore new opportunities in response to these changes.
Raising financial requirements: a double-edged sword
Increasing the financial threshold for study permit applicants means that students coming to Canada will be more financially secure. This is a positive development for the student housing industry, as it assures a level of financial stability among our potential student tenants.
However, it’s also important to acknowledge that this might limit the pool of international students who can afford to study in Canada, potentially reducing the total demand for international student accommodation. It’s important to emphasise that Canada’s objective shouldn’t be simply to attract the wealthiest students globally, but rather to focus on those with exceptional capabilities and potential, who may not come from affluent backgrounds.
The role of student housing providers in a changing landscape
Off-campus student housing providers with sufficient know-how and resources to operate at scale have an important role to play. The ability to move rapidly to source new housing inventory and deploy technological solutions that complement and enhance institutional offerings is a must. I was once an international student myself, grappling with similar challenges.
“Many great schools, both public and private that provide excellent education”
We must continue to offer affordable, accessible, and quality housing options for students. This involves working closely with educational institutions and understanding their capacities and limitations in light of the new policies.
At the end of the day, we know that 80% of learning happens outside of the classroom, and having reliable and affordable housing is essential for students to succeed in their educational aspirations. Moreover, it’s an opportunity for us to innovate and diversify our offerings.
Looking ahead: A call for collaboration
The new IRCC policies underscore the need for greater collaboration between educational institutions, housing providers, and the government. I see a significant opportunity for dialogue and partnership. We must work together to ensure that the changes do not adversely affect the student experience in Canada and that the quality and accessibility of education and housing remain top priorities.
“I was once an international student myself, grappling with similar challenges”
The Ontario government’s recent decision to link student visas with guaranteed housing presents unique challenges for both educational institutions and private housing providers. Universities and colleges are under pressure to provide adequate housing for a growing number of international students.
This challenge involves not just attracting global talent but also ensuring sufficient infrastructure for student support, highlighting the need for innovative, scalable, and affordable housing solutions.
Embracing change for a better future
While the IRCC’s new policies pose challenges, they also present opportunities for growth and innovation in the student housing sector.
We stand firm with our partners and colleagues in Canada and are fully equipped to navigate government regulations by creating affordable, well-packaged housing solutions. 4stay uses innovative solutions partnering with developers and landlords to repurpose, build, and create scalable access to net-new student housing opportunities and help open up housing for students that would have never otherwise had access.
I stay incredibly optimistic about the future of the Canadian education brand around the world. I know it will continue to grow and prosper for many decades to come.
About the author: Faridun Nazarov is the CEO of 4stay, a SaaS-enabled online marketplace for students and intern housing. 4stay offers several housing solutions for educational institutions including sourcing student housing with developers and landlords, investment, and development opportunities for long-term growth, as well as technology solutions to help students and administrators book and manage housing.
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