New Brunswick universities are scrambling for information after the federal government announced new caps on international students, set to come into effect for the next school year.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller announced Canada would only issue 360,000 undergraduate study permits, a 35 per cent reduction, next fall.
The cap would be for new students, not those renewing an existing permit and would remain in effect for the 2025 school year.
Permits will be distributed to the provinces and territories based on population, with provincial governments deciding which schools will get them.
Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour Minister Arlene Dunn says New Brunswick doesn't have the problems the federal government is trying to address with the cap. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
The federal government said the move is, in part, to address concerns that the growing number of international students may strain available services.
"Rapid increases in the number of international students arriving in Canada also puts pressure on housing, health care and other services," said a news release from the government.
Arlene Dunn, the minister of post-secondary education and the minister responsible for immigration, said in a statement these are not issues in New Brunswick.
"The changes are very concerning for our government, and we are not in favour of this move that unfairly targets all provincial jurisdictions when not all are experiencing the same problems," said Dunn, adding that New Brunswick "is paying the price for the problems that exist in other parts of the country."
The federal government has basically thrown a grenade into our admissions process. - Pierre Zundel, CCNB
The announcement comes at a time when universities are already working with potential international students who may be impacted by the cut.
"We're more than midway through that process of working with students who might be looking to come in September," said Ryan Sullivan, vice-president of enrolment management at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.
"This change part way through a cycle is … challenging. And you can imagine for students abroad who might be seeing this news, it could be creating some stress."
The changes are also impacting the province's community colleges, which have a high number of international students.
Pierre Zundel, the president of Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, says 48 per cent of its student body is international. (Francois Vigneault/Radio-Canada)
Pierre Zundel, the president of Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, where 48 per cent of the student body is international, said the college is in a similar position to St. Thomas.
"The federal government has basically thrown a grenade into our admissions process.
"This is going to create a kind of chaos that will be extremely hard to manage," he said.
Zundel says the sudden changes will make it difficult to plan for the fall, and some programs, which draw heavily on international students, may be impacted.
Mount Allison University says it's working with the province to figure out the impact, but specifics are hard to come by. (Mount Allison University )
Anne Comfort, vice-president of international and student affairs at Mount Allison University, in Sackville, said in an emailed statement that the university is working with the Department of Post-Secondary Training and Labour, but specifics are hard to come by.
"We do not have enough information on key elements of this announcement, such as caps per province, implementation, and impact on application in progress to ascertain impact on fall 2024 intake," said Comfort.
The University of New Brunswick is also looking for more information, with president Paul Mazerolle saying, via email, "We do not know what the provincial cap in New Brunswick will be or how, and if, the announcement will impact us."
Attracting international students
International students are attractive to universities for many reasons. The most obvious is the higher tuition they pay than Canadian students.
At St. Thomas, where Sullivan estimates about 11 per cent of the student body is international, domestic students enrolled in the bachelor of arts program pay $8,280 a year. International students pay more than double that at $18,610.
Université de Moncton president Denis Prud'homme said Tuesday that 35 per cent of the school's student body is international, many in the administration and nursing programs.
With 35 per cent of the school's operation budget coming from tuition, a reduction in international students could mean higher tuition overall, he said.
"Obviously, there is a risk if the student bodies decline that an institution [would] potentially have to increase their tuition," Prud'homme said.
Sullivan, at STU, said international students also contribute to the culture of the school.
"I think that's the most important piece, is the culture of the university," he said.
"Think about what an international student brings, the perspective, their lived experiences abroad."
'Thrown under the bus'
New Brunswick's representative for the Canadian Federation of Students said "international students are thrown under the bus by this announcement" and being unfairly blamed for housing and job shortages.
Trilok Bawa said putting a cap on the number of international students is "not going to solve the housing issues or the accommodation issues that we have or the inflation."
He said having fewer international students will inevitably result in higher tuition for everyone — not just international students — because institutions rely so heavily on money from international students.
Trilok Bawa is an international student at UNB and the New Brunswick representative for the Canadian Federation of Students. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC)
"They say that by some stats, international students contribute $21 billion to the Canadian economy everywhere and a 35 per cent reduction in visas is certainly a big number for the educational institutions," said Bawa, an international student at UNB.
He suspects some students may be reconsidering their education plans to come to Canada.
Bawa said "most students" are probably wondering, "is Canada a more favourable destination for their higher studies at this point in time?"