Published January 26, 2024

Post-secondary schools must guarantee housing for international students: Ontario

By Liam Casey and Allison Jones in Toronto

Ontario colleges and universities will be required to guarantee housing for incoming international students, Minister Jill Dunlop announced Friday.

The government will also review post-secondary institutions with a "sizable" number of international students and introduce a moratorium on new public college and private institution partnerships, she said.

The announcement comes days after the federal government announced a cap on study permits for international undergraduate students over the next two years.

Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller earlier this week announced a 35 per cent reduction in the number of study permits this year, though with the total cap divided between provinces, Ontario will see its allotment of new visas cut in half.

The move comes in response to a recent surge in international students and Miller has said it is meant to curb bad actors from taking advantage of high international student tuition fees while providing a poor education.

Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government made public colleges and universities cut tuition by 10 per cent in 2019, then froze tuition at that level and did not provide a corresponding funding increase. 

Post-secondary institutions, particularly colleges, began enrolling more and more international students in an effort to recoup lost revenue.

The Ontario government said Friday that it was acting to protect students and improve the integrity of the province's post-secondary education. 

"The challenges stemming from the recent spike in students coming to Canada, including predatory practices by bad-actor recruiters, misinformation regarding citizenship and permanent residency, false promises of guaranteed employment, and inadequate housing for students, require immediate attention and collaborative action," Dunlop wrote in a statement. 

The government's measures include a requirement that all colleges and universities have a guarantee that housing options are available for incoming international students. 

But Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said that will do little.

"Housing doesn’t appear out of thin air," he wrote in a statement.

"Mandating housing without a funding commitment to help Ontario’s universities and colleges pay for it is little more than smoke and mirrors."

The NDP criticized the Progressive Conservatives for failing to respond to a government-commissioned report that last year recommended the province increase tuition fees and funding colleges and universities. 

"It is abundantly clear that this government would rather see post-secondary institutions close than cough up the investments needed to keep them afloat," NDP critic Jamie West wrote in a statement. 

"They have been asleep at the wheel for the past five years while public colleges and universities languished, paving the way for a predatory private, for-profit education system that has only harmed students."

Since the report was released in November, Dunlop has said the province is reviewing the recommendations and was working with the institutions to help find "efficiencies."

That review remains ongoing.

"As this review process continues, the government will work closely with the sector to reach an outcome that provides stability and certainty for post-secondary institutions and students alike, with further details to be announced by the end of February," the province said in a statement.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations said Friday's announcement misses the mark by coming with no funding.

"Ontario needs international students, but universities need more funding from the government to provide the support that international —and domestic —students need to succeed inside and outside the classroom," Nigmendra Narain, the organization's president, wrote in a statement.

"The ministry has not provided any tools to do this with these proposals.”

Dunlop also announced a provincial review of programs offered by post-secondary institutions that have a significant amount of international students to ensure the programs are of appropriate quality and meet labour market needs. 

As well, the province said it would bring in a moratorium on new public college-private partnerships "while further work is done to strengthen oversight mechanisms and ensure the quality of existing partnerships."

This week's federal announcement included barring students in schools that follow a private-public model from accessing postgraduate work permits as of Sept. 1.

Ontario colleges and universities have come out against the federal government's move to cap international student visas. 

In 2022, a report from Ontario's auditor general said the province's schools had become increasingly dependent on tuition fees from international students.

International student enrolment has quickly increased over the past several years, said a report last summer commissioned by Ontario's Big City Mayors.

The number of international students at Ontario universities nearly doubled from 2014-15 to 2021-22, and more than tripled at colleges. The majority of institutions built no new student residence spaces during that 2014-15 to 2021-22 period, the report found.

Ontario, like much of Canada, remains gripped in a housing crisis. The province has pledged to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 in an effort to address the supply shortage.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.

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