Sault College President David Orazietti hopes the backing of City Council can help the school avoid taking a double hit to its annual budget.
Orazietti was before Council Monday night to explain in detail why the federal government’s decision to cap foreign student visas poses a serious threat – to the potential tune of $40 million – to the college’s budget.
On Jan. 22, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced a two-year cap on foreign student visas, effective for 2024. The feds will approve about 364,000 under-grad visas, a drop of 35 per cent from 2023. Ontario is certain to be harder hit than most provinces, and the drop could be as high as 50 per cent.
Ottawa is looking to ease a country-wide housing crunch. Canada Mortgage and Housing’s most recent report pegs the national vacancy rate in the purpose-built rental market at 1.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1988. Average rent growth reached a new high as well, at eight per cent.
Ottawa’s solution, for Orazietti and institutions like Sault College (SC), is a problem, and represents one hit arising out of the Jan. 22 announcement.
Less publicized is hit number two: the federal government’s changes to post-graduate work permits. Beginning this September, international students will no longer be eligible for the post-grad permits.
“If the post-graduate work permits are not available to them, even though they have successfully completed their program, they will not enrol in these partner colleges,” Orazietti told council. “If they don’t enrol, these schools will not make the revenue they need to exist and they will not flow to us roughly $40 million to our budget, which is one-third of the entire Sault College operating budget.”
Some small private colleges, the federal government says, have taken advantage of foreign students, who pay four times the tuition of domestic students. The students have complained of poor support in areas like off-campus jobs, housing, even food.
Orazietti says he is aware there are issues with some schools in the sector, but says Ottawa’s solution to the skullduggery is an “over-reach”, negatively impacting schools that operate within their partnerships at a high standard.
Sault College, he says, delivers the rigorous curriculum and conducts oversight, and is not one of the “bad actors” cited in the Minister’s announcement 10 days ago.
“It’s really not appropriate to take a broad brush and simply say that all of the institutions in Ontario have this problem, because they don’t, frankly,” Orazietti explained. “We want the Ministry to be a little more surgical in how they implement the access to those post-graduate permits.
The main campus of Sault College has 1,344 domestic students and 999 international students.
Sault College is in public-private partnership with TriOS College. Two campuses, one in Toronto and another in Brampton, have a total of 2,800 international students. Some of the programs offered by TriOS included Computer Programming, Early Childhood Education, Business and PSW (Personal Support Worker).
About 90 per cent of SC’s 3,800 international students will seek post-grad work permits, Orazietti told council.
About 156,000 international students are enrolled across Ontario’s 24 publicly-funded colleges. Sixteen of the 24 have public-private partnerships. Nearly 61,000 international students were enrolled in Ontario through public-private partnerships.
The numbers have grown significantly in recent years as Ontario’s college’s worked to offset a tuition freeze implemented by the Ford government now entering its fourth year.
Orazietti notes SC’s overall enrolment has remained steady the past five years.
Domestic student enrolment decreased as international enrolment numbers climbed.
Sault College has taken the position it won’t expand its year-to-year enrolment until it can house more students on campus.
Orazietti, named SC President last April, made on-campus housing a top priority. A plan for a 200+ bed residence on campus has been developed and is going to the SC’s board for final approval.
Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour congratulated Orazietti on moving quickly to address the lack of on-campus housing. When news broke last summer that SC was seriously exploring the building of a new student residence, said Dufour, “there was a collective community sigh of relief.” said Dufour.
“We are doing everything we can to get this residence project moving. If we could build two or three residence buildings we will, with the will of the board.”
Cambrian College in Sudbury and Canada College each have over 600 beds on campus, while Sault College has 157.
“We are way behind on this issue,” said Orazietti.
Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Vezeau-Allen asked if students currently enrolled have made it known they won’t return without available work permits.
“We’ve tried to reassure them,” replied Orazietti. “There’s been a bit of panic as you can appreciate with the Minister’s recent announcement. There’s been no consultation with anyone in the sector about these changes.
We’ve had to reassure students that they are in good standing for a post-graduate work permit. But after September, that eligibility is removed. We know students will be choosing other institutions, potentially.”
Ward 4 Coun. Marchy Bruni asked Orazietti about the impact the loss of $40 million dollars from its budget would have on Sault College.
“Trying to be balanced here and address this in a way that doesn’t unduly create uncertainty and panic among our employees and organization. There’s over 720 employees at the college, a $43 million payroll into the community and into the economy, so very significant.”
Orazietti said he’s had a number of discussions, internal emails have been sent, and he called an all-staff meeting this past week, to reassure everyone that “we are doing everything we can” to try to address the issue.
“Certainly it would be inappropriate for me to suggest it will be business as usual with that much of our budget being impacted,” said Orazietti.
A 2021 Auditor General’s report warned Ontario’s colleges were relying on international student tuition for their long-term financial health. The report noted that the number of foreign students at Ontario’s colleges had tripled in the past decade.
Ward 3 Coun. Angela Caputo asked Orazietti if SC has a strategy to support the itself without international students.
“I don’t know if any institution in this country has a strategy to support their institution without international students,” said Orazietti. “It’s an economic reality of the sector. You don’t have to go far through this community to find that there are international students working in many establishments in the community and investing in (it).”
Monday night’s two-fold resolution supporting Sault College called for the City to urge the federal government to reconsider its recent policy changes and specifically exempt public-private institutions from being excluded in offering post-graduate work permits.
It also called upon the provincial government to implement recommendations from a Blue Ribbon panel and actively work with the federal government to restore eligibility of public-private colleges, to grant students who successfully complete their program, a post-graduate work permit.
In supporting the college and the motion, Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker said the federal and provincial governments make decisions with unintended consequences, and noted how SC is intertwined within the community.
If Sault College takes a $40 million knock, Shoemaker said, mutually-beneficial relationships in the city would be threatened, such as SC’s on-going support of Harvest Algoma. Shoemaker said money for SC to build new residences, or a new Health Science building – which could lead to the City having its own NOSM (Northern Ontario School of Medicine) campus – might not be available.
The two resolutions carried unanimously.