TORONTO – A shocking investigation by the CBC into the shadowy world of education recruiters who exploit the dreams of struggling international students to fill the coffers of private colleges, and in turn the public colleges they partner with, should be a chilling wake up call to the Ontario government to address the chronic underfunding of public colleges in Ontario.
The investigation by The CBC’s The Fifth Estate looks at how education recruiters in countries like India earn commissions by enticing families to pay exorbitant fees to enrol young people in private colleges here in Ontario with empty promises of guaranteed jobs and permanent residency.
The reality for many international students who come to Canada on a student visa is very different. Many international students struggle to pay for basics like food and shelter and do not find the jobs and permanent residency they were promised. These pressures, with no mental health support, have contributed to devastating outcomes for international students.
“An exploitative system has been created to use revenues from vulnerable international students to fill the public funding gaps,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick. “We shouldn’t have a system that relies on a family in India mortgaging off their farm to fill in public funding gaps, but after years of underfunding this shameful model is where things are at.”
Last year, a report from Ontario’s auditor general found that some public colleges in smaller or northern communities have become dependent financially on international students, but face challenges in attracting these students to their home campuses. These colleges enter partnerships with private career colleges in the Greater Toronto Area that allow students to live in the GTA and take courses toward a diploma from the more remote public college.
Government cuts have opened the door for a fundamental shift from public to private funding and P3s (public-private partnerships) as the main source of revenue for Ontario’s colleges.
However, the auditor general found that the tuition revenue from these partnerships meant the difference between running a deficit or a surplus for some public colleges.
“Ontario colleges currently receive the lowest per-student funding in all of Canada. This underfunding hurts students, college faculty, support staff and international students.” said OPSEU/SEFPO Ontario College Faculty Division Chair Pearline Lung. “We are calling on the government to address the exploitation of international students, restore the moratorium on P3s and ensure adequate educational and mental health supports for all students in Ontario Colleges.”
(photo credit: Naujawan Support Network. International students protesting outside of Alpha College, located in north Toronto, in May 2022.)