Ontario’s budget deficit could mean more international students will be attending the province’s post-secondary institutions.

On Sept. 21, Progressive Conservative finance minister Vic Fedeli announced that Ontario’s budget deficit was much greater than previously thought. A review of the province’s finances, conducted in July, revealed that Ontario was facing a $15-billion deficit. The consequences will have to be felt across the province, Fideli warned.

What does this mean for post-secondary institutions? Money will have to be made from international students, said Alex Usher, who is the president of Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA). HESA acts as an education consultant to policy makers and institutions in Canada and internationally.

Cuts to post-secondary education funding are on the horizon for the next two years, Usher speculated in an interview with the Ryersonian. According to a 2018 HESA report, in order to make up for lost funding, universities and colleges recruit more international students and raise their tuitions.

This is not a new trend. The study also found that between 2009 and 2015, government funding to universities fell by $1.6 billion, while fees from international students rose by $1.5 billion. International student tuition has been rising by four per cent every year, with domestic student tuition rising by two per cent.

In 2006, the report said, international student fees were four per cent of total university revenue. However, in 2020, they are predicted to make up for nearly 13 per cent of revenue. Universities will also orient themselves towards programs that international students tend to prefer.

At Ryerson, this means an emphasis on engineering, business and architecture which, according to the newest budget, are the top three programs for international students.

“International students can go anywhere,” Usher said. “To attract international students, institutions have to be a lot more market-sensitive than with domestic students. You can offer anything to domestic students, because they’re not going to go anywhere.”

In a HESA newsletter sent out in the summer, Usher wrote that a dependence on foreign student tuition will result in universities and colleges being more vulnerable to political rifts. This can be seen in last summer’s mass exodus of Saudi students, he said. It may also be the case that international students end up occupying too many spots, leaving out domestic students.

There isn’t a way to save, Usher said, without not spending any money, which includes new campuses slated for construction. This would “absolutely include” Ryerson’s Brampton campus, he said.

President Mohamed Lachemi said that while the province has made it very clear that “the situation with the budget is one of reduction,” the school has not heard any word of potential cuts. He also has not heard any news of a delay in construction of the Brampton campus.

“We’re working very closely with the new government,” Lachemi said. “Our job is to make sure that we explain the role of the university and how the university and the government can meet their target.”

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