Let’s Talk… about International Students at Brock and Niagara College

Welcome to our latest Let’s Talk for Chamber Members, where we focus on important issues affecting local businesses like yours, in a spirit of dialogue that’s shared among us.

For our first Let’s Talk for 2024, we’re sharing insights from a Chamber roundtable featuring Brock University and Niagara College and the issue of international students.

Their perspectives were insightful, as roundtable participants heard how important international study permits are to these post-secondary institutions and the Niagara community. This, amid Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller’s announcement earlier this year on a significant study permits cap, with early media reports suggesting new permits will be reduced 35-per cent across Canada this year, compared to 2023.

The cap from the federal government comes in context: There’ve been issues raised about the use of Canada’s growing international student programs, and how it affects housing and health-care access availability, among other things like the standard of living for this student influx, which is vital to these institutions’ vitality and budgeting.

Other concerns are about the potential use of some international student enrolment to get a foot-in-the-door to Canadian immigration, and the quality of some high-tuition education. Niagara College and Brock made it clear those areas of concern were unrelated to what they do.

The roundtable was at Cardinal Lakes Golf Club in Welland on March 26, and included Dr. Lesley Rigg, President of Brock University and Sean Kennedy, the President of Niagara College. It was moderated by Board Member, Kevin Jacobi.

South Niagara Chambers of Commerce was also told at the roundtable, it was the only organization to host chamber members Brock and Niagara College, in a forum to address this situation.

We heard that both the college and university are deeply committed to the post-secondary experience, before and after they arrive, and work closely with Niagara community partners to assist the students in areas like housing, food security, bursaries and health care. The foreign students — and other students — get significant support and campus orientation.

It’s also evident the impact to the institutions as the cap unrolls – and ultimately to Niagara — are in ways we may not have considered, as both face frozen or reduced public operating grants and tuition revenue. International students’ contributions are also an important part of the region’s economy and labour force.

At the roundtable, Brock told us 9% of its tuition base was from international students in 2022-23, and Niagara College indicated 28% of its total revenue comes from them, with half of their students being international students, representing 7,000 new residents moving to Niagara.

Niagara College and Brock say they’re working hard to invest more in campus living and residential building, while expanding support systems for international students — and all students.

Among a number of concerns for Niagara College was the impact on potential cuts to workforce development here; especially in areas of health care, skilled trades, hospitality and tourism.

Days after the roundtable, some details about the permit allocation for Ontario was revealed, and it appears to have largely spared the worst for Brock and notably Niagara College, which would be most affected.

It turns out thrust of caps and Ontario international permit allocations likely mean far less student permits for smaller private colleges, where most concerns about foreign students enrolling in questionable studies at excessive fees, or leveraging enrolment for immigration, are focused.

Niagara College President Sean Kennedy, who was at the roundtable, expressed some optimism with Let’s Talk after more details were known.

He said the province has allocated 96% of permit applications to public universities and colleges, with 80% earmarked for public colleges.

“We’re currently reviewing the allocation information provided by the province last week to determine what the short and long-term impacts will be for our operations,” Kennedy said. “And we’re pleased that the province has introduced an allocation formula that recognizes the important role of public colleges and the value of international students in our community.”

Kennedy adds the college was pleased that the allocation formula “prioritizes programs that are directly tied to labour market needs, including healthcare, skilled trades and hospitality and tourism.”

“We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as the impact from study-permit caps becomes better known,” said Dolores Fabiano, SNCC Executive Director. “In the meantime, enjoy the welcome arrival of spring. We look forward to reaching out to you again.”

For additional feedback, including suggestions for future roundtables, podcasts and Let’s Talk editions, please submit your thoughts to dolores@niagarafallschamber.com

Greater Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce

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