On Monday, April 4, 2016, OCUFA submitted a series of recommendations to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) on a proposed international education strategy. The recommendations are a response to a discussion paper issued by MTCU.
The impetus for a new international strategy for Ontario’s colleges and universities appears to be to increase recruitment of international students, and building the profile of our institutions abroad. OCUFA’s submission states that intent matters when it comes to this sort of strategy. we consider international students or international campuses only as sources of revenue for university budgets, then the resulting strategy will not put proper emphasis on ensuring a quality experience for international students. If, however, we look at internationalization as a means to enrich the educational journey of all students – international and domestic students alike – then we are better positioned to design a strategy that achieves beneficial outcomes for all.
OCUFA believes that international students should never be viewed as revenue generators for Ontario’s colleges and universities. Moreover, increased international recruitment should not be seen as a financial stabilizer for universities experiencing enrolment fluctuations driven by demographic shifts. It is also imperative that every international student receive the support services and resources they need to be successful.
With these principles in mind, OCUFA made the following recommendations:
- International tuition fees should be capped. This would remove the incentive to recklessly increase international student enrolment without making proper provision for support services. The level of this cap should be determined by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) in consultation with student groups and sector stakeholders.
- The Government of Ontario should immediately begin to increase per-student funding for universities. By ensuring our institutions are well funded, we simultaneously remove the temptation to view international students exclusively as new revenue sources and will improve the learning experience for every student at an Ontario campus.
- As part of any international strategy, MTCU should make additional operating funding available to universities to support the specialized services required by international students. This funding should be predictable and multi-year, and delivered through the new university funding model.
- International students should be eligible for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. At present, international students are excluded from Ontario’s healthcare system and must rely on institutional alternatives. As a matter of fairness, OCUFA supports the recommendation made by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario calling for OHIP eligibility to be extended to international students. This will provide needed support to international students and bolster Ontario’s attractiveness as a study destination.
- OCUFA supports the creation of pathways to permanent residency for international students. The terms of these pathways should be fully negotiated with the federal government and communicated clearly as part of international recruitment drives, as well as to international students once they have enrolled.
- Ontario has a responsibility to the countries where it recruits students. While it is desirable to encourage international students to remain in Ontario should they wish to do so, we also need to recognize that this policy will have an impact on their country of origin. In some cases, this means removing needed intellectual and scientific expertise from developing economies. With that in mind, Ontario should explore ways of transferring knowledge and expertise back to the countries from which we recruit students.
- MTCU should create an International Opportunity Scholarship for Ontario students. In MTCU’s previous international strategy, launched under the auspices of 2005’s Reaching Higher plan, the Ministry created the Ontario International Education Opportunity Scholarship (OIEOS) to support Ontario students who wished to study abroad. The amounts were modest – less than $1500 – but helped in offsetting some of the upfront costs of international study. Such a program could be reestablished to support MTCU’s goals of increasing student mobility.
- MTCU should investigate the feasibility of creating more scholarship opportunities for international students. Such scholarships are relatively common at the PhD level, but could be extended to Master’s-level and undergraduate students. These scholarships should be funded by MTCU.