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Too early to predict impact of cap on international student, say Vancouver Island schools

International student enrolment at Island colleges has rebounded faster than at their university counterparts.
Students arrive at the University of Victoria in early September. | Adrian Lam, Times Colonist

Post-secondary institutions on Vancouver Island say it’s too early to predict how a cap on international students announced Monday by the federal government will affect their operations.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller revealed changes that aim to limit Canada’s international student program, including a temporary reduction in the number of new student visas by 35 per cent.

Miller said the two-year cap will give federal and provincial governments time to tackle problems in the student visa system that have allowed bad actors to take advantage of high international student tuition while providing a poor education. “It’s a bit of a mess,” he said. “It’s time to rein it in.”

North Island College spokesperson Diane Naugler said the college is still waiting to see how the provincial Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills will respond to the federal changes and allocate study permits.

Carolyn Russell, associate vice-president international at Vancouver Island University, said she is waiting for more information from the province before providing any comments on the new federal policy.

No one from Camosun College was made available for an interview Monday, but a spokesperson said the college will be reviewing details of the federal announcement to see how it may be affected by the changes.

“Ensuring that international students are not taken advantage of during their time in Canada is important and something we support,” the statement said.

The University of Victoria did not have anyone available for an interview on Monday. But in a statement, a university spokesperson said it looks forward to working with the province on next steps.

Island colleges report a rebound in international student populations in the wake of the pandemic, while universities report stagnant or declining international-student numbers.

Naugler said North Island College has seen 25 per cent growth in the number of international students since 2019 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially caused numbers to drop by 30 per cent. “We’ve seen a good rebound from a decline.”

The college has 768 international students this school year, Naugler said, adding that international students only made up 7.5 per cent of the college’s overall student population last year.

“We think that’s a really reasonable growth based on the consultations that we’ve had with our local communities.”

Naugler attributed North Island College’s success to its contracted team of recruiters based across the world. The college has recruitment specialists for South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Students from India constitute 58 per cent of North Island College’s total international cohort.

Camosun College also saw large increases in international-student enrolments last fall — for the first time in five years, Camosun has more international undergraduate students than the University of Victoria.

Camosun reported 2,094 international students enrolled in the 2023 fall semester, up from 1,674 in 2019.

UVic is forecasting 1,587 international undergraduate students for the 2023-24 school year, down from 2,573 in 2019-2020.

Like North Island, Camosun College said its international-student numbers are rebounding due to active recruitment in key overseas markets, although domestic enrolment is still more than 2,000 short of what it was in 2019.

Tony Eder, associate vice-president of academic resource planning at the University of Victoria, said in an earlier statement that UVic’s declining international-student enrolment numbers were due to immigration and study-permit delays, as well as “geopolitical events.”

UVic is responding with a number of international recruitment tactics, including expanding its network of recruiters, he said.

Eder also pointed out that UVic is seeing some of its highest domestic enrolment to date. Domestic undergraduate students rose to 14,818 last fall from 14,046 in 2019.

At UVic, the three most common countries of origin for international students for the 2023 fall semester were China, India and the U.S., according to the university.

In the next two months, UVic will be among the Canadian educational institutions marketed at upscale hotels in Southeast Asia, such as the Shangri-La in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the five-star Lotte Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, by the Canadian Education International organizations in each country — Canadian-supported non-profits that help promote trade and educational opportunities in Canada.

The university has also signed up for booth space this spring at massive college fairs held in convention centres in Los Angeles and Houston, where they will compete for prospective students against as many as 200 other colleges and universities.

For much of the past month, UVic has been advertising itself to prospective learners as “Destination UVic.” An online event for international students on Friday advertised the school as affordable, safe and inclusive.

At VIU, meanwhile, Russell is leading the institution’s first strategic enrolment management plan, to be launched in April.

“If we’re looking at wanting to get back to where we were in 2018-19, just looking at the international-student population as an example … we don’t have capacity in year one to bring in 700 new international students. We have to think about how we spread that enrolment growth.”

VIU saw 9,029 domestic students and 1,743 international students enrol in studies in the 2023-24 fiscal year, down from 9,783 domestic students and 2,663 international students in the 2018-19 fiscal year, though it noted that the current year’s numbers were still incomplete.

Royal Roads University did not release enrolment statistics for the current year, but said its total enrolments in the 2022 calendar year declined to 4,693 students from 5,003 in 2021. The university welcomed 888 international students in 2022, two students fewer than in 2019.

International students generally pay around three to five times more than domestic students at post-secondary institutions, as their tuition is not subsidized by the provincial government.

Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Selina Robinson said in a statement the ministry will have more to say next week about the international student caps.

“We have known about the issues facing international students for some time and we are actively working with the federal government on solving them, and making sure that international students receive the quality education they were promised,” Robinson said.

Canada had 807,000 international student visa-holders in 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a near 31 per cent increase over 2021. More than half of those students were in Ontario in 2022.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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