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B.C. pushing for exemptions to Ottawa’s cap on foreign students

Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson also announced protections for foreign students
Speaking from Ottawa Monday (Jan. 29), Premier David Eby said the provincial government is pushing for exemptions on the future cap of international students permitted to study in B.C. while toughening up rules around post-secondary institutions. (Screencap)

The provincial government is pushing for exemptions on the future cap of international students permitted to study in B.C. while toughening up rules around post-secondary institutions.

Premier David Eby and Post-Secondary Education Minister Selina Robinson delivered this double-barreled message Monday from both Ottawa and Surrey.

The federal government announced Jan. 22 that it would cap the number of new international students for 2024 at about 360,000 — a cut of 35 per cent compared to current numbers. Ottawa also announced that it would allocate the permits to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.

But it is not clear how many of these permits would fall to B.C. It currently has the second-highest number of international students in Canada with about 175,000 international students. They account for about 32 per cent of all post-secondary students in B.C. and represent a significant source of revenue by virtue of paying higher tuition fees than domestic students. About 82,000 international students study at public institutions, about 94,000 at private institutions, many of which train in-demand professions. But some private schools have also received criticism for charging excessive fees in exchange for mediocre education.

But if B.C.’s final share of future international students remains unclear, both Eby and Robinson framed it as a starting point for future negotiations with the federal government.

Speaking from Ottawa Monday (Jan. 29), Eby pointed to several areas where B.C. might be pushing for exemptions in certain areas. They include nursing, childcare and truck drivers among other skilled professions.

Robinson had echoed Eby’s point hours earlier in announcing tougher measures to protect international students from exploitative practices and improve the quality of post-secondary education for international students.

“So while they may given us a number, I’m not sure that’s the final number,” Robinson said. “(It is) important that government does have these conversations with the federal government, because I think it’s really important that we understand what our needs, what our skill-gap-needs are there and that we can use the international education framework as a way to help us make sure that we have the skilled people that we need to sustain our economy and most of all…deliver the services that we all depend on.”

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READ MORE: New admissions cap will cut international student visas by 35 per cent

Eby acknowledged that Ottawa has more leverage on this issue in noting Ottawa ultimately issues international study permits.

“They (federal government) don’t have to listen to us,” Eby said. “But I do think the program will be much stronger, the harm (for the provincial economy) will be less, the benefits will be more, if we work together, and frankly, I felt a positive reception to this message here.”

Speaking to CBC television Sunday, Eby said his government “on Saturday night, we received some numbers from the federal government” without revealing any specific figures.

“Obviously, this is early-day stuff,” he added. “We are looking at what we have received and there are key areas where we are aiming to set out specific exemptions to make sure we have the health care workers we need to run our hospitals, for people to get the care they need in British Columbia as our population grows.”

Eby then said on Monday that his government would share the numbers with reporters.

Robinson said Monday — before Eby’s appearance — that she had not yet seen B.C.’s numbers.

“So I saw him on (television) as well and I thought, ‘oh, that’s great.’ But I haven’t had a chance to discuss with my team yet what that means.”

Measures, which Robinson announced Monday in Surrey, promise to prevent institutions from taking advantage of international students and to eliminate private institutions’ ability to host international students if they are unable to meet the provincial standards.

Perhaps the most significant is a two-year-pause on the approval of new institutions offering international education.

“We need to press pause, while we strengthen the policies and regulations that protect students and ensure that we have a system to enforce these new regulations,” Robinson said.

These new regulations include among others higher standards for private degree programs, new language requirements for private institutions and tuition transparency. Robinson also announced that government would inspect private post-secondary institutions more to ensure that they meet new and improved quality standards and students receive proper support in areas such as housing.

“The federal government has responsibility around the numbers for British Columbia,” Eby said. “We have the responsibility around the quality and that’s what Minister Robinson’s announcement was about. I am glad to see the federal government moving on numbers and we will address the issue of quality in our system.”

Overall, international students have been a net gain for British Columbia, Eby added. “It (the presence of international students) has been a cornerstone of our province. It has developed for many years and it’s also right to say that those students need to be treated fairly when they are here.”

Black Press Media has reached out to additional details about the number of new international students permitted to study in B.C. and will update this story accordingly.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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