The internationalization of higher education brings forth financial, political, and socio-cultural benefits to all stakeholders involved. The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, along with the Council of Ontario Universities, among others, have made it clear that international students and, more broadly, international education, are of utmost importance to the Ontario university sector. Nevertheless, substantial financial and cultural barriers persist that raise concerns about the transparency, accountability, and competitiveness of our institutions.
As Ontario’s university sector continues to rely on the presence and growth of international students, it is imperative for the government to consider a broader policy approach to international education. Such an approach would not only improve the quality of Ontario universities for all students, but it would also enhance the sector’s competitive edge with other domestic and foreign jurisdictions. OUSA’s new policy paper addresses this policy strategy by offering a series of recommendations based on student values and concerns.
International education comprises several elements: increased international student access and retention within domestic institutions, growth in numbers of domestic students pursuing opportunities to study abroad, and diversifying institutional administration, staff, faculty, and services to promote internationalization.
International students are accessing undergraduate education in Ontario’s university sector at a substantial rate. There are currently over 39,000 international students pursuing an undergraduate degree in Ontario’s universities. As such, universities rely heavily on international student tuition fees to maintain revenue growth. This is particularly noticeable in recent years due to the regulation of domestic student tuition fees and the net decline in real dollars from provincial government funding to institutions per domestic student. In fact, international students account for approximately 28 percent of the total tuition revenue generated in the Ontario university sector despite only comprising 11 percent of the Ontario undergraduate student population.
International students face a series of cultural and social barriers that hinder their health, employability, and feelings of belonging. Inflexible study and work permits restrict recent graduates from transitioning into the labour market to become permanent residents. At the same time, limitations to their health coverage through the University Health Insurance Plan put some students at risk of sacrificing their wellbeing during their studies. International students also face discrimination and racism from faculty, staff, and domestic students, resulting in struggles with integration and access to essential support services.
While Ontario’s universities continue to be the primary destination for international students studying in Canada, the number of Ontario residents pursuing studies outside of Canada is quite low. It is also noteworthy that despite the presence of various financial aid programs from the federal and provincial governments, Ontarians still cite a lack of finances as their greatest barrier to pursuing education abroad. Similarly, many credits students earn on exchange do not get recognized or transferred back to their home institutions in Ontario. As such, even though Ontario’s university sector continues to lead in international student recruitment, it is far behind in terms of its outbound domestic students.
These issues illustrate the need for a more holistic international education policy in Ontario’s university sector. If the province truly values internationalization it must invest in students’ pathways to global learning and collaboration. OUSA’s members have recently adopted a new policy aimed towards the Government of Ontario, which highlights and advocates for the following overarching goals: regulating international tuition rates to ensure fairness and transparency, promoting diverse student support services to achieve intercultural collaboration, including international students into the Ontario Health Insurance Plan to bolster their wellbeing, and enhancing the capacity for domestic students of all economic backgrounds to pursue studies abroad.
To read about students’ values and recommendations on these matters, check out our International Students & Education policy paper here.