Hundreds of international students are scrambling after an Ontario college revoked their January admissions letters, prompting concerns about how a lack of provincial oversight keeps colleges from facing repercussions for admitting more students than they can handle.
Northern College, which rescinded 500 international student admissions in July, says it has once again told some 200 students, primarily from India, that they won’t be able to attend its campuses. Savan Sabu lives in India and was planning to study supply chain management at Northern College’s Timmins campus with hopes of landing a job in a multinational company. Now, Sabu is out of money and repaying a $30,000 loan with an 11 per cent interest rate.
“I’m so anxious and depressed,” Sabu told CBC Toronto. “Northern College has shattered my dreams.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities told CBC Toronto that it is aware of the “small percentage” of revocations and that colleges have the authority to make decisions about admissions. That authority is a problem, according to Jaspreet Singh, president of the International Sikh Student Association. He says colleges should not be able to welcome more students than they have the capacity to host.
Deferring students or revoking their acceptances leaves students in limbo, a problem he says has been exacerbated during the last few years as Canada continues to welcome record-high numbers of international students.
Indian students spend more on post graduate institutes in Ontario than the province itself, and make up more than half of the population at many Ontario colleges, according to a recent report by the education consultancy group Higher Education Strategy Associates. At Northern Colleges, more than 80 per cent of all students are international students, most of whom are from India.
Singh says the reliance on students is worrisome. Sending offer letters to more students than the college can accept — what he calls “overbooking seats” — is not just a way to sustain the institution, he said, but also a source of profit.
“Everyone is profiting: the colleges, the government — which doesn’t have to spend more on education and [gets to] have international students spending money in our economy — the employers get cheap labour,” Singh said. “It’s just the students who are suffering.”
“Northern College does not entertain inflammatory statements rooted in conjecture, its operations and finances are a matter of public record, like every other Ontario College,” the college told CBC Toronto.
According to financial statements, from 2021 to 2023, the college’s student fees contributions went from $12 million to $19 million to $67 million. The college says it rescinded offer letters because of a lack of housing and jobs.
“This decision was not made lightly … Northern felt it was prudent and responsible to pare down the number of acceptances offered to ensure that students have access to safe housing and the ability to find employment,” it said. But for students like Sabu, who already have housing lined up, that reasoning doesn’t make sense.
Governments ‘play the blame game,’ advocate says
In a Sept. 29 email, the college told Sabu his acceptance had been revoked because there is “No seat available.”
According to copies of the correspondence viewed by CBC Toronto, Sabu emailed back with a copy of his tuition receipt and confirmation he’d reserved a seat for the winter 2024 semester. In its Oct. 2 reply, the college this time said his acceptance had been revoked due to “a lack of housing and jobs.” When Sabu persisted, saying he had housing arrangements, the college stuck to its housing reason.
“The students being referred to may have secured housing and work arrangements, but they had not secured their study visa, and legally could not study in Canada with Northern College,” a spokesperson told CBC Toronto.
However, the college’s own international student advisor Monique Lamond says that excuse doesn’t hold water since the deadline to upload proof of study permit is Jan. 4 and the permits themselves aren’t issued until they enter Canada. Without a valid letter of acceptance, students like Sabu won’t be able to enter the country as planned.
“I don’t know how to sleep, day by day it gets worse… I don’t know what to do,” he said.
Colleges in northern Ontario have been discussing how to deal with a lack of housing, Lamond said, but she wasn’t aware Northern College had decided to revoke letters.
“For September intake, we scrambled an awful lot to find housing for all the students coming in,” said Lamond, who acknowledged it is “quite late in the process” for the students to deal with admission revocations.
Incidents like two admission revocations in a row at Northern College should force governments into taking action, according to Singh, who says both provincial and federal governments “play the blame game.”
Even though there is a memorandum of understanding between the federal and provincial governments to jointly administer the International Student Program, the provincial government says its role is limited to “reviewing and approving post-secondary education institutions seeking a Designated Learning Institution status under the ISP.”
Meanwhile, the federal government said “the authority to designate, de-designate, and regulate educational institutions” rests with the province.
No college transfer option
Of the 500 students who had offers revoked by Northern College for the current fall semester, 250 were accepted by Centennial College following reporting by CBC Toronto. The remaining were eligible to receive a full tuition refund. But this time a college transfer is not an option.
According to Northern College, students can either accept a deferral to next fall and receive a $1,000 bursary toward tuition, or they can apply for a full refund. The college says dozens have already opted for a full refund. Sabu says the revocation has left him and his family in an anxious, uncertain position. They were planning to fly to Canada in December.
“I am really frustrated and very tense not knowing what my future would hold for this one whole year if I choose September 2024 intake,” he said.
“I still lose money and time.”
Source: CBC News