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Bad student visa policy is no solution for bad student visa policy

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From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Ken Coates

Making matters worse, a Statistics Canada report released in November of 2023 found that the number of postsecondary students actually enrolled at Canadian Universities was 20% to 30% smaller than the total number of individuals with international student visa’s.

Post-secondary education is in turmoil, thrust into the headlines by the Government of Canada’s decision to cut back on international student visas and work permits. The near panicked response by colleges and universities across the county has attracted attention. The federal decision is poor public policy, with flawed timing, significant negative impacts, and potentially serious long-term implications. But the ‘solutions’ implemented in January 2024 are a classic example of using bad policy to address bad policy.  The fallout from this mélange of policy decisions could severely damage Canadian post-secondary institutions and the Canadian economy.

Governments, colleges, and universities have come to rely on international students, now numbering close to 1 million in Canada, particularly their tuition fees and the money that they bring into the country. The tuition fee revenues freed governments from the obligation to provide adequate funding to post-secondary institutions. Colleges and universities, for their part, used international student funding to avoid difficult, painful decisions related to the level of provincial support (the territories are not strongly affected by these processes).

The current controversy reflects more than a decade of poor and ineffective federal policies. Canada opened the gates for immigration, reaching unprecedented levels of refugees, formal immigrants, and hundreds of thousands of international students. Making matters worse, a Statistics Canada report released in November of 2023 found that the number of postsecondary students actually enrolled at Canadian Universities was 20% to 30% smaller than the total number of individuals with international student visa’s. Pointing to significant abuse of the study permit system, the report states, “It is unclear whether [the international ‘students’] stayed in Canada and, if so, what their main activities were.”

Our rapidly rising population is now blamed, not always accurately, for a serious national housing shortage and sky-rocketing prices, particularly in the major cities. The international student debate highlights the shocking shortcomings of the nation’s approach to housing and the absence of a thoughtful plan for population growth and rapid urbanization.

Bad federal policy is more than matched by poor provincial decisions, particularly in Ontario.  The Liberal and Progressive Conservative administrations in Ontario have underfunded colleges and universities, dramatically so, relative to the other provinces and territories.  Frozen tuition fees only added to institutional fiscal challenges. Several provinces, again led by Ontario, doubled down by authorizing many for-profit private colleges, most operating in league with public universities and colleges, to recruit international students. At the provincial level, the influx of international students, coupled with high tuition fees, masked the deficiencies of provincial funding, leaving underlying financial challenges unaddressed.

Colleges and universities had bad policies of their own.  Without the government funding to meet their salary, administrative and capital costs, post-secondary institutions became addicted to international student fees, the crack cocaine of advanced education.  Dozens of colleges and universities, enrolled thousands of international students, feeding the bottom line but increasing the reliance on international students and high tuition fees.  They assumed, over-optimistically, that the steady flow of international students would never slow, let alone stop. They are now paying the price for that miscalculation.

Some institutions, particularly small institutions in northern and small-town locations, eve established satellite facilities in big cities to capitalize on strong student demand and to supplement small and stagnant enrollments on the home campus. International students and satellite operations were lifelines for institutions that would otherwise be in severe difficulty.

The Government of Canada’s response to the convergence of multiple bad policy streams consists of additional bad policy decisions. International student visas have been slashed by 35% and student-friendly work permit arrangements have been cut back dramatically. Canada’s once wide-open doors for international students have been partially closed.  A carefully cultivated reputation for being receptive to foreign students has been degraded, if not dismantled, in one quick federal move.

The federal policy, announced with seemingly little coordination with provincial authorities and institutions, is a plainly political move, an urgent step taken by a Liberal government reeling in the polls. The decision was released in January 2024, at a key stage in the international student cycle. Colleges, public and private, are vulnerable to dramatic shifts in enrollment and they now face catastrophic losses of income. The implications go much further.  Residences will want for students and employers of the eager international students will struggle to find replacements.  Many college and university faculty and staff, particularly vulnerable short-term and sessional workers, will likely lose their jobs. And the national economy will lose out on a big portion of the billions of dollars spent annually by the international students.

The problem has been years in the making. The government may have been trying to make up for lost time but the hasty federal decision has already had an impact. Colleges and universities are already reporting sharp drops in applications. The message that Canada is no longer friendly for international students is out globally. The damage to student enrollment might be greater than anticipated.

A more appropriate approach would have been to announce a gradual reduction, starting in 2025, giving the colleges and universities time to adjust to a potential fiscal disaster. Another sensible alternative could have been to take aim at the abuse of the student visa system and to ensure those who entered the country under a study permit were actually enrolled in and attending classes. Bad policy often comes from knee-jerk reactions to political processes; good policy takes careful thought and, often, time.

Canada’s large international student recruitment industry brought billions of dollars into the Canadian economy.  Thousands of students worked while they studied and made successful transitions to permanent resident status.  Many people who came to Canada as high fee-paying students have become Canadian citizens and taxpayers.  The students followed the rules, as did the colleges and universities that capitalized on clear and long-standing government policy. The federal and provincial policies may have been poorly designed and inappropriate, but governments set the parameters and expectations and shouldn’t punish others for their shortsightedness.

Bad policy, to be succinct, is no solution for bad policy, but that is what is happening to international student education in Canada.

Ken Coates is a distinguished fellow and director of Indigenous affairs at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a professor of Indigenous governance at Yukon University.

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COVID-19

Learning loss piles up alongside snow while ‘e-learning’ collects dust

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Paige MacPherson

During COVID school closures, students in the province missed at least 125 days of school between March 2020 and February 2022, more than any other province (except Ontario), generating a significant learning loss from which students have not caught up.

In a world increasingly connected by technology, and given the Nova Scotia government recently spent tens of millions of dollars enabling at-home learning, one might think that students would seamlessly shift to online learning during the recent snowstorms to avoid losing crucial instructional time. Unfortunately, that’s not happening.

During COVID school closures, the Nova Scotia and federal governments spent at least $31.5 million dollars on “virtual school” and other technological upgrades so students could, according to the provincial government, “succeed, even in an at-home learning environment.”

Unfortunately, the electronic learning infrastructure—which includes Chromebooks, laptops and iPads for students and teachers, and additional support and new teachers for Nova Scotia Virtual School—is collecting dust in a corner while Nova Scotia kids are falling further behind.

This isn’t some blip in an otherwise strong record of instructional time for Nova Scotia students. During COVID school closures, students in the province missed at least 125 days of school between March 2020 and February 2022, more than any other province (except Ontario), generating a significant learning loss from which students have not caught up.

Indeed, according to the latest results (2022) from the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), the gold standard of testing worldwide, Nova Scotia 15-year-olds trail the Canadian average in reading by 18 points and trail the Canadian average in math by 27 points. For context, PISA characterizes a 20-point drop as one year of lost learning.

Moreover, between 2003 and 2022, Nova Scotia student performance in reading dropped by 24 points—more than one year of learning loss—and dropped by 45 points in math. In other words, in math, 15-year-old Nova Scotia students today are more than two years behind where Nova Scotia 15-year-olds were in 2003.

These troubling trends underscore the need to put the existing e-learning infrastructure to work. During a recent two-week period, students in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education school district missed seven days of school due to snow. And some students missed an additional five days due to weather and power outages. That’s nearly three weeks. While more instructional time is not a silver bullet for student success—and with power outages, e-learning is not a perfect solution—it could still make a big difference.

According to international research, missed classroom time causes learning loss and impacts children for life, reducing their life-long earnings. Nova Scotia education researcher Paul Bennett found that lost classroom time due to inclement weather compounds absenteeism and sets back student achievement and social progress.

The Houston government should ensure that Nova Scotian students have access to teacher-directed e-learning when schools are closed and, like other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States, abandon the practise of simply cancelling school due to inclement weather. It’s simply common sense. The snow may pile up, but there’s no good reason why learning loss must pile up with it. Parents are right to demand access to the e-learning they’ve already paid for through their tax dollars.

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Education

$13 million for RDP’s Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing-Technology Access Centre in Alberta Budget

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Provincial funding to expand RDP’s Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing (CIM-TAC) will significantly boost applied learning and research opportunities

Expansion of Red Deer Polytechnic’s nationally recognized Technology Access Centre will provide more than 2,400 students direct and indirect innovative learning opportunities by 2030.

Red Deer Polytechnic (RDP) is celebrating a significant capital investment of $13 million by the provincial government to expand RDP’s Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing-Technology
Access Centre (CIM-TAC). The funding was announced today as part of the Government of Alberta’s 2024 budget.

“Red Deer Polytechnic is playing a critical role supporting technological innovation while creating opportunities for students. That’s why Alberta’s Government is making a strategic investment to expand the CIM-TAC and give RDP even greater capacity to train apprentices and help sectors across our economy remain competitive,” says the Hon. Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Advanced Education.

“We thank the Government of Alberta for the $13 million provided in Budget 2024 to expand our Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing–Technology Access Centre (CIM-TAC). This funding will help create new and innovative teaching and learning spaces at Red Deer Polytechnic, while expanding our applied research capacity to support Alberta based companies,” said Stuart Cullum, President of Red Deer Polytechnic.

“Because of this investment, Alberta based manufacturers across multiple sectors will have greater ability to develop, test and scale their ideas, while RDP students will be engaged at the forefront of made-in-Alberta technologies and manufacturing solutions. This expanded and enhanced innovation ecosystem will enhance productivity and social impact within our province,” said Cullum.

Students in a breadth of RDP’s programs and disciplines already benefit from education and skills-training opportunities within the CIM-TAC each year, through project work, internships, and workshops. The expanded CIM-TAC is anticipated to provide direct learning opportunities to 450 post-secondary students and indirect learning opportunities to an additional 2,000 students by 2030. These opportunities will afford RDP’s students direct interaction with community and industry partners to tackle real-world challenges in manufacturing and
advanced manufacturing. Additionally, over 500 junior and senior high school students will benefit from experiential learning within the CIM-TAC as part of dual-credit opportunities afforded through the Central Alberta Collegiate Institute (CACI).

RDP is Alberta’s third largest provider of skilled trades education. Learners enrolled in RDP’s apprenticeship and technology programs are among those who will benefit from the CIM-TAC expansion as this capital investment will support unique training opportunities.

“With the expansion of Red Deer Polytechnic’s CIM-TAC, our students will gain unparalleled access to advanced manufacturing technologies and immersive learning spaces. Students will have the hands-on experience and expertise needed to excel in the modern manufacturing sector. This expansion underscores our commitment to providing students with the tools and skills necessary to become industry-ready professionals, ensuring they emerge as highly sought-after innovators and contributors to Alberta’s economic prosperity,” says David Pye, Dean, RDP’s School of Trades and Technology.

The provincial Government’s $13 million investment in RDP’s CIM-TAC complements the recently announced historic $20 million gift to RDP from the Donald Family that will establish the Donald Family Institute for Healthtech Innovation. This parallel public and private funding support will be a game-changer for post-secondary training in central Alberta, in particular for healthcare providers and healthtech innovators.

“As RDP’s CIM-TAC grows capacity, it will undoubtedly provide new ways for students and faculty to engage in education and applied research with external health practitioners and researchers in this unique innovation ecosystem. Our students will have even more opportunities to gain valuable skills that prepare them for successful careers while also making meaningful contributions to Alberta’s healthcare sector,” says Heather Dirks, Interim Dean, RDP’s School of Health and Wellness.

Red Deer Polytechnic’s expansion plans for the CIM-TAC are in alignment with the Government of Alberta’s economic and social priorities, including the Ministry of Advanced Education’s 2030: Skills for Jobs Strategy.

This strategy outlines a need to increase student access, build capacity for skills training in technology and trades, and support research and commercialization through the post-secondary sector.

“As one of Canada’s Top 50 Research Polytechnics and Colleges, we already make a significant positive impact across our province and country,” says Dr. Tonya Wolfe, Associate Vice President, Applied Research.

“The future is very bright as we plan for the expansion of our Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing-Technology Access Centre. This means we can create even more impact in productivity in the manufacturing sector through collaboration between students, faculty and industry that help people solve challenges in their daily lives.”

The overall cost of the capital expansion of the CIM-TAC is projected to be approximately $21.3 million. This includes the $13 million provided by the Government of Alberta in Budget 2024, with $4.8 million in capital and equipment provided through Government of Canada grants, and $3.5 million from Red Deer Polytechnic’s own reserves. Construction on Red Deer Polytechnic’s CIM-TAC expansion is anticipated to begin in the fall of 2024.

Quick Facts:
• Red Deer Polytechnic’s expanded CIM-TAC will support a variety of sectors through advanced
manufacturing capabilities including energy innovation, transportation, aviation and agriculture. The Centre will also support RDP’s future expansion into more medical device manufacturing and healthcare innovations to support both patients and providers.
• RDP’s expansion of the CIM-TAC will grow the facility’s footprint from 15,000 square feet to
25,000 square feet.
• The CIM-TAC currently houses $7.6 million of advanced manufacturing equipment. As the facility expands, so too will RDP’s capacity to house additional technologies and equipment used for product development, advanced manufacturing and medical device manufacturing.
• In 2022, Red Deer Polytechnic attracted more than $2 million in applied research investment. RDP also completed 64 projects for 57 companies and participated in more than 1,300 engagements with industry partners.
• Since the CIM-TAC’s inception in 2009, Red Deer Polytechnic has supported more than 300 industry partners (including repeat clients).

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