Ontario’s international students deserve better

It’s no secret that education is increasingly an industry turned commodity – especially towards international students. Our universities, colleges, and public and independent K-12 systems are all increasingly dependent on income from international students for their operations.

This year, international students will pay $16,000 for an education at TDSB, Ontario’s largest public school board. At the HWDSB, next-year fees are $14,850 plus $850 in medical insurance. And that doesn’t include registration fees or travel and accommodation fees upon arrival in Canada.

However, it seems that international students deserve better than they get in Ontario. The lack of safeguards at the K-12 and post-secondary levels must be addressed.

Increasingly, these high school and college students are making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Media has reported on a family in India who lost all their life savings trying to gain access to a seedy Canadian post-secondary program for a young woman. Others arrive in Ontario without any assistance.

Fixing the damage may be complex, but solving the public order problem shouldn’t be.

Let’s start with independent secondary schools. A recent Cardus study estimates that over 300 Ontario schools are “credit emphasis” schools, with a primary focus on offering Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) credits rather than a specialized or religious purpose. Many of these schools market their courses internationally online in foreign languages ​​and accept foreign currencies. As we state in our report, “the quality of the program and the motives for operating it at some of these schools may not be in the best interests of the public”.

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To be fair, many credit emphasis schools serve an important purpose by providing essential language training in English, allowing older students to obtain their diplomas and giving students the flexibility to study at their own pace. However, some give cause for concern.

The main problem is the recruitment process. Since the provincial government released its international education strategy in 2015, Ontario has seen robust and aggressive recruitment of international students with limited student security measures.

While many public schools and independent schools have created their own safety policies, there is no official accountability for partners such as staffing agencies or homestay agencies.

We don’t have to look far for a way forward. Neighboring Manitoba is the first province to legislate to protect international students, imposing strict guidelines on recruiters who travel abroad to host students. Ontario should do the same. Pull out the weeds by the roots.

As Ontario continues to grow its international student industry, we must ask tough questions. How valuable is the reputation of our high school graduates? And are we doing what we can to protect the vulnerable from exploitation? Ontarians are welcoming and hospitable, and immigrants and international students are wonderful additions to our society. But feeling good about our intentions is not enough. We need to make sure that the schools that attract international students really serve them.

Joanna VanHof is a researcher at the Cardus think tank and David Hunt is the head of Cardus’ education program