The tangled web of contradictions:  international students

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

The subjects of immigration and international students have been delicate issues for quite some time. I’ve been talking about it since the election.  Some people don’t like it, but we are at a crossroads where the discussion is vital. Therefore, I’m heartened to see over the past few weeks, these subjects have become front and centre in mainstream media. Despite that, the situation remains a tangled web of contradictions.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, many international students are struggling. I told you about hearing at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference reports of situations where 10 or more international students were living in two-bedroom apartments and houses. My point then was, and still is, that we’re having trouble providing primary healthcare, housing and other services to our existing population; surely, inviting too many more without the proper existing infrastructure is unfair to everyone.  

To wit, you may have seen what Global News flagged last week: while international students have been arriving in droves and often living in squalor, they are also experiencing mental health stresses of being far from home without proper access to psychological supports. Meanwhile, down at Queen’s Park, our provincial government and universities and colleges have developed a dependence on these students to counteract budget deficits and augment campus financial health and on-campus support. 

It’s no wonder colleges and universities don’t want to see cuts, when you consider a briefing from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, which stated “in 2021-22, international students accounted for 28 per cent of total revenue at publicly assisted colleges, or $1.6 billion, while international tuition made up 19 per cent of total revenue at publicly assisted universities, totalling $3 billion.” Foreign students generally pay more, and this helps the budget, but we don’t want to see our post-secondary systems gutted.

The article also mentioned that from 2016-17 to 2020-21, the number of full-time international students at Ontario universities grew by 82 per cent. On top of that is the private career college factor: the briefing note numbers in the Global piece were incredible, as they wrote, “From 2013 to 2019, the number of international students enrolled in vocational Private Career Colleges increased almost 12 times, from 882 international students in 2013 to 10,368 in 2019.”

I know the Ontario government considers its international student intake a success, but that certainly isn’t what students tell me.

This tangled web of contradictions has another side. Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, summed it up nicely last week on CityNews: “The program is broken. Right now, we see international students being taken advantage of, living in horrendous conditions, and it has essentially become an ATM for academic institutions.”

Many constituents have been voicing their concerns to me for the past year that local students are often being pushed out of programs because places are being taken by international students. As I’ve said before, I have no problem with international students as people—they are usually friendly and hard working under the tough situation Ontario puts them in. But I’ve heard frustration that spots in colleges such as Fanshawe, which used to be an affordable option for local students living with family, are now being filled instead by international students.

Speaking of “spots,” CBC reported on many international students studying medicine in Ontario who get the limited coveted placements, making it tough for domestic students. Then, upon graduation many foreign students depart with their “MD” for other parts of the world. I don’t need to remind you, among other professional shortages, we have a serious family doctor shortage.

Another constituent issue on this file that has surfaced is the transferability of licences between jurisdictions. I’ve heard many students and professionals lament that their licence does not allow them to work outside Ontario. Like the MD designation, international students can take their Ontario accreditation (whatever subject it may be) and work or practice with it back home.

We’re seeing these contradictions. The good news is the conversation is happening. We are in crisis mode, and this should have been fixed a long time ago.  There are going to be some who will not like the cure, but we need to fix this, and we need take measures now to ensure we see a marked improvement.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk