International education and Ontario’s university sector under scrutiny

Our findings support the concerns raised by the province’s education minister that it is a poor fit for those that pursue a teaching career

Teaching may not be the best option for some international students hoping to get a good education in Canada, according to the provincial government in Ontario.

On Monday, Ontario’s provincial minister of education, Lisa Thompson, announced a review of international student and postsecondary education in Ontario. Many were surprised by the announcement given the success in the province in the face of similar problems facing the UK and US.

Ontario has the largest international student population in the world. There are two million international students enrolled at Ontario postsecondary institutions. The University of Toronto is home to more than 130,000 international students, with international undergraduates contributing $4.4bn to the Ontario economy. About half of students live in Ontario, mainly in Toronto and Vancouver.

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But the educational success in the province is being overshadowed by allegations of systemic abuses at the province’s two international schools in Toronto.

The announcement drew parallels between Ontario and the United States and the UK. Both jurisdictions have seen public criticism for fostering inequities in the labour market. And in both, international students are finding Ontario has challenges in the eyes of many locals, especially in large cities such as Toronto and Montreal.

“Why should we keep spending money on students who aren’t graduating?” Thompson said on Monday.

In addition to questions about the challenges of carrying out successful international degrees in Canada, the review will focus on postsecondary education in Canada specifically, and also decide what role international students play in further growth in the sector. Thompson promised to hold a free public consultation in the “next month or so”.

“In an era of ‘value added’ education, I don’t think this is the right path for our postsecondary institutions to take,” she said.

It’s a problem that has been long in the making, said Annie Kidder, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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“I think we’ve always been seeing a lot of this stuff,” she said. “The tide has turned and now it’s more obvious than ever that there’s a serious problem of under-representation in this sector, particularly for young people who would consider working in Canadian-born fields.”

Speaking to the Canadian Press, Kidder lamented the moral damage that these issues could cause to the millions of people who go on to pursue teaching careers in Canada. She noted that there are questions about whether, in spite of Ontario’s success in attracting international students, the province is able to raise salaries enough to make a salary gap between Canadian-born teachers and those who take their place.

Canada attracts students from countries that don’t pay full tuition fees. It’s similar to how Canada helps its top students afford a top education. That is exactly what international students do when they come to Canada.

“International students do huge amounts of work in Canada to pay for their fees, to pay the living costs,” Kidder said. “Students who stay in Canada don’t get the same experience.”

So, in addition to other financial benefits Canada extends to international students, Ontario could lose the opportunity for many of them to pursue a teaching career.

“I know how much stress is being put on teachers, especially in Ontario where teacher hiring can be really difficult,” said Kidder. “There’s a certain value in keeping international students here in Ontario, and part of that value is the life experience that teaching brings.”

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