B.C. blocks new colleges seeking to enrol international students, adds language rules

B.C. blocks new colleges seeking to enrol international students, adds language rules

British Columbia is banning new post-secondary institutions from applying to enrol international students for the next two years, as the province roots out “exploitive practices” plaguing the system.

Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson said Monday that the freeze is necessary to correct faults in an international education system that “has not been working as well as it should.”

Robinson said the province began looking into the system last March and found instances of “poor-quality education, a lack of instructors” and even the “scaring away” of students from lodging formal complaints by certain private institutions.

One student, Robinson said, told her that the woman’s family in India saved money to send her to B.C. for a “quality education.” Instead, she was placed in online classes upon arrival, the minister said.

“She arrived here being told that there would be in-class instruction, only to discover on her first day of class as she showed up that the entire course would be taught online,” Robinson said. “And she couldn’t understand why she spent all that money for an online program.

“We do need to stop the bad actors from misleading these students, and that’s what we’re here to fix.”

Robinson also announced the province was setting minimum language requirements at private institutions so international students will be “better prepared” before coming to B.C.

More details on the language requirement will be released in March, Robinson said, as work is still being done on that front.

Of the 175,000 international post-secondary students from more than 150 countries in B.C., about 54 per cent are enrolled in private institutions.

There are 280 of those private schools in the province, and 80 per cent of them are in the Lower Mainland.

Robinson said the province will step up inspections of the schools to ensure standards are met, adding that many students are being taken advantage of.

“They worry that if they complain, it will risk their student visa, and it will sacrifice all the effort their families have put into making sure they can get a quality education,” she said. “So, they’re less likely to complain.

“As a result of hearing that, we’re going to be … developing a system where we’ll be on site and doing a more proactive evaluation of programs.”

Robinson said the two-year pause gives the province some time to assess the impact of recent changes, such as the federal government’s capping of study permits it approves over the next two years.

Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the limit would reduce the number of new student visas by 35 per cent for this year.

The student program has grown significantly, including a 31-per-cent jump to more than 800,000 students in 2022 from the year before, putting added strain on Canada’s housing market.

B.C. Premier David Eby said it is crucial that the province correct the issues in the international education system, noting the sector’s “cornerstone” role in the social and economic fabric of the province.

“There are a wide array of private institutions, big and small in our province, but regardless of the size of the institution, our expectations of the level of quality are the same,” he said at a media availability in Ottawa. “There are institutions that are not meeting our expectations right now.”

The B.C. Federation of Students — which represents more than 170,000 people enrolled at universities, colleges and institutes — said the changes are a “good first step” and an acknowledgment of issues raised by the group for several years.

The federation called the problem of “exploitative international recruitment” a “dire” situation, and said the provincial review also needs to consider “overreliance” on tuition from foreign students by public post-secondary institutions.

“Our priority is for student’s needs to be centred as next steps are taken,” said federation chairperson Melissa Chirino. “We want to ensure international students are protected, tuition fees aren’t being viewed as a way to cover potential institutional budget shortfalls and services that students rely on aren’t being cut.”

Robinson said B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions would be required to clearly communicate full tuition costs to international students for the whole time someone is studying.

The province will also be working with public schools to “set expectations for maximum international student enrolment levels,” a move that Robinson said would benefit both foreign and Canadian students.

“I’ve heard stories in some institutions where the entire class is made up of students from one province in India,” she said. “So, that play-out doesn’t really provide the opportunity for integration, for understanding Canadian culture.

“It doesn’t serve anyone well.”

New standards for institutions would include “higher assessment criteria for degree quality, demonstrated labour-market need for graduates and appropriate resources, and student supports,” the provincial announcement said.

Robinson said the pause on new institutions would last until February 2026.

READ ALSO: New cap on international students a ‘blunt instrument,’ says Royal Roads president

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.

Chuck Chiang, The Canadian PressChuck Chiang, The Canadian Press

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