Immigration Minister Criticizes Conestoga College’s International Student Strategy

Immigration Minister Criticizes Conestoga College's International Student Strategy

During an online forum hosted by Toronto Metropolitan University, Immigration Minister Marc Miller expressed concern over the financial strategies of Ontario colleges and universities, particularly targeting Conestoga College for its reliance on international student tuition fees.

Miller addressed the issue of colleges and universities depending heavily on international students, who are charged significantly higher tuition fees compared to domestic students. He acknowledged that the current system incentivizes institutions to prioritize international student enrollment as a means to balance their finances. However, Miller singled out Conestoga College, citing a $106 million surplus reported in its recent annual report, which he deemed contrary to the core mission of educational institutions.

The minister emphasized, “There is at least one institution in Ontario that had a $100 million positive balance at the end of the year, and that, in my mind, isn’t the vocation of a college or university.”

Miller acknowledged the right of institutions to generate profit but cautioned against doing so at the expense of international students, whose aspirations and financial resources are often concentrated into their education. He highlighted the risks faced by international students, such as challenges in finding employment or receiving subpar education, leading to potential scenarios where they may have to seek asylum.

Conestoga’s Rapid Growth in International Student Enrollment Raises Concerns

The growth of international student enrollment at Conestoga College has been staggering, with a 1,579 per cent increase over the past seven years, as reported by Ontario’s Big City Mayors. This growth far exceeds the increases seen at other educational institutions in the region, such as the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, which experienced comparatively modest growth rates of 62 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, during the same period.

Miller’s comments coincide with the federal government’s decision to implement a two-year cap on foreign enrollment, leading to a projected 35 per cent reduction in new international student permits in 2024. Ontario, among other provinces, may face reductions exceeding 50 per cent in international student numbers. Additionally, the federal government has doubled the financial requirements for prospective international students applying for study permits.

Miller Addresses Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in Kitchener-Waterloo Area

Miller also addressed concerns regarding anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly targeting the high international student population from India in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. He acknowledged the challenges faced by vulnerable communities during tough times, noting a correlation between increased international student populations and rising living costs, which can lead to tensions within communities.

While acknowledging people’s desire for a better life, employment opportunities, and education, Miller stressed the importance of regulating international student enrollment to ensure integration and mitigate negative repercussions on local communities. He urged educational institutions to take greater responsibility in facilitating the proper integration of international students into their surroundings.

Conestoga College Responds to Criticism

In response to the criticism, Conestoga College issued a statement highlighting its alignment with the federal government’s immigration strategy through increased international student enrollment. The college emphasized the positive impact of international students on innovation and entrepreneurship in the province. It also mentioned that surpluses generated are reinvested into communities through campus expansion, student support initiatives, and programs tailored to meet workforce demands.

Despite requests for an interview with Conestoga College President John Tibbits, the college indicated that he was unavailable for comment at the time of the inquiry.

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