By Muskan Sandhu
Image Source: http://www.mingshengbao.com/
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”
It appears that Canada has shifted the burden of investing in knowledge, specifically in higher education, to international students. The first-world system of generating wealth by outsourcing its needs to other countries has been replicated in the Canadian education system as well. Except, in this case, wealth isn’t produced by extracting cheap labour but instead through an inverted model of providing exorbitant educational services to international students. With COVID-19 halting various forms of cross-border exchange, what exactly is at stake for the Canadian economy and education if international student enrollment falls sharply?
To put the potential outcome in perspective, various ethnic media outlets have taken to pointing out how international students contribute to Canada’s economy. Fairchild TV British Columbia, a Cantonese newscast from Vancouver, reported that according to government sources international students contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP in 2018. In a Korean newspaper from Toronto, The Korea Times Daily, Universities Canada President Paul Davidson was quoted as saying that international students represent 50%, on average, of the total tuition revenue.
Furthermore, Vansky, a Chinese web daily, pointed out that: “The contribution of these international students to the Canadian economy is not only tuition, but also rent, groceries, transportation, entertainment, and more. International students provided Canada with nearly 170,000 jobs...For the Canadian government, these people are a good source of high-consumption, are highly-skilled immigrants, and can make a beneficial contribution to the economy.”
Commenting on the significance of these figures, CFC News, a Chinese newspaper from Ottawa wrote: “When the times are good, Chinese international students are considered "gold mines" for Canadian universities, but when disaster strikes, this dependency may result in the collapse of the financial systems of these universities.” Evidently, this observation is applicable in the case of not just Chinese but all international students.
A decrease in enrolment seems to be taking effect already. Vansky reported that compared to the first quarter of the year 2019, the first quarter this year has seen a decline in the number of Chinese students who received student visas by 51%. The shift to online classes is also not proving to be helpful. In an interview on OMNI News: Punjabi Edition, a news channel aired from Toronto, representatives of the organization Team We Care said that they have launched a petition for a tuition fee refund from UBC because the international student fees are very high and the students feel that they are not receiving its full value anymore. Team We Care is a group dedicated to helping international students navigate their journey in Canada - the group currently has 6,000 members.
Similarly, CFC News opined: “International students don't want to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to be sitting at home looking at their professor on a computer screen. In addition, as racism increases, more and more Chinese international students and parents are starting to consider suspending their schooling, or even preparing to find alternative paths instead of going overseas.”
All hope, however, does not seem to be lost for universities. The Toronto Spanish newspaper El Centro News referred to the IDP Connect poll to state that most aspiring international students say the COVID-19 pandemic is not stopping them from pursuing post-secondary education abroad. Regardless, uncertainty remains the mantra of the pandemic for everything, including higher education.