Creative Commons, Marc Miller at a press conference 2023
A reduction in the number of international students, announced today by the federal government, does nothing to deal with the underlying causes of the crisis unfolding in public universities across Ontario. 

What it will do is increase dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric that is being fanned by right-wing politicians across the country, says CUPE, the leading union representing university workers in the province.

“Governments have been ignoring both the need to increase funding to public post-secondary institutions and the need to deal effectively with the housing crisis for decades. Instead of the federal government stepping up to the plate with increased funding targeting these challenges, this announcement uses international students as scapegoats,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.

Ontario’s public universities deal with the lowest funding percentage from the provincial government of any postsecondary institutions across the country.  The deregulation of fees for international students, coupled with inadequate and shrinking public funding from the province has caused universities in Ontario to turn to international students to fill the funding hole. 

 “Our province relies on the skill and passion of people from around the world coming here to resettle and bring their talents to strengthening our collective future. Limiting international students sends the message that they are the problem – and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Hahn. “Fund services properly. Invest in affordable housing. Invest in public education. These are the investments needed to make our society and economy flourish.”

International students now provide more funding to provincial post-secondary education than the government does.

A review panel hand-picked by Ontario’s Conservative government highlighted that and per-student funding in Ontario is the lowest in Canada – about half what is provided in other provinces.

That panel recommended an immediate five percent increase in tuition fees, but fell far short of restoring per student funding to levels seen in previous decades or comparable to other provinces.

“Today’s announcement in isolation without enhanced public funding to fill the gap will mean a massive cut in revenues to Ontario universities that are already announcing plans to close entire academic departments,” said David Simao, chair of CUPE’s committee representing university workers. “Our communities and our economy benefit most when we provide a broad spectrum of academic programs to encourage critical analysis and thought, and universities are already closing programs down.”

CUPE Ontario is calling on the federal government to halt the changes to international student visas until it and the province have dealt with the root of the problem by restoring  per-student funding and supplying resources to assist with affordable housing for students, and  addressing the actual root of the problems so programs can be maintained at universities across the province. This must be done to avoid the unfair and dangerous scapegoating of international students without driving already astronomical tuition fees even higher, so that children from working class families can have the same opportunities as children of the rich.