Foreign Students Flood Canada’s Universities and Shouldn’t

by Diane Francis

McGill University campus is seen Tuesday, June 21, 2016 in Montreal. The author of a controversial article about Quebec that appeared in Maclean's magazine this week has stepped down from his post at McGill University.Andrew Potter said in a social media post Thursday his resignation as director of the Institute for the Study of Canada was effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson ORG XMIT: CPT105

Canadian universities are preoccupied with attracting foreign students to boost revenues but should be concentrating on preparing the country to meet future technological challenges.

There are now 192,000 full and part-time overseas university students in the country, a cohort the size of Regina, out of a total of 1.7 million enrolled students.

But the percentages of foreign enrolment has been leaping and a recent report by a University of British (UBC) Columbia Professor Peter Wylie said they are displacing domestic students, notably in important areas such as engineering.

“International students are now able to get into UBC with lower grades than those needed of domestic students in many, perhaps all, programs,” he said. “Meanwhile, many domestic students are on waiting lists to get into these courses. So international students definitely do displace foreign students.”

Universities have aggressively recruited abroad because foreign students pay dramatically higher tuition than domestic students.

In the past decade, for example, the University of Toronto increased the percentage of its foreign enrolment in all courses from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. At UBC, one-third of first-year students were international.

These two schools have the highest proportions, but all are scrambling to catch up and this year’s foreign-to-domestic ratio hit a new peak. McGill had the highest level, with international students making up 30.7 per cent of first-year students, at Bishops it was 29.6 per cent, at the University of Toronto 25.7 per cent, and at Dalhousie and Waterloo roughly 20 per cent.

In graduate schools, involving medicine or other critical sectors, international enrolments are higher still: 57 per cent at Windsor University, 50 per cent at Memorial University and 40 per cent at Concordia University and another dozen schools.

UBC, and others where percentages are high such as University of Toronto, deny that Canadian students are being displaced, but the trajectory is obvious.

There’s another critical issue besides public institutions becoming for-profit cash cows.

Canada must identify those credentials and skills that are strategically important to meeting the needs of the future economy such as science, technology, engineering, and computer science. These courses must be offered to Canadians only and not to outsiders who will take these skills home and build their economies in order to compete against Canada.

Besides that, in the next two decades, there will be a need to retrain and upgrade Canada’s labour force in its economic pillars – oil and gas, mining, auto manufacturing and banking. All these sectors will be massively disrupted by technologies and unemployment will result.

There is little doubt that training more Canadian engineers and technologists will be key to maintaining our living standards and is preferable to training others who may, or may not, stay.

Most leave, according to figures.

In some disciplines such as medicine, foreigners are already replacing Canadians, forcing many to seek training elsewhere. Then, having become properly trained in Australia or the U.S. or certified schools abroad, those Canadians are denied entry due to protectionism by Canada’s medical profession.

Another worrisome indicator points to a shortfall in educational opportunities for Canadians. The Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education said that foreign student attendance in universities soared by 88.5 per cent since 2010 while enrolment of domestic students grew seven per cent. That means that fewer Canadians are attending university — a bad sign for any country facing technological disruption.

It is time to rein in publicly funded educational institutions from pursuing the foreign student bonanza. Their principal obligation has been, and must be, to provide education and training to Canadians.

First published Financial Post March 19

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