What Policymakers Don’t Want to Hear About Why Canada Needs to Lower Tuition

Courtesy of Tima Miroshnichenko

Aside from Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, Canada is the most expensive place to study abroad. No thanks to the astronomic rise in international student tuition over the past ten years championed in part by the country’s political right, the lure for many students outside Canada has almost always been the guaranteed pathway to migration which the Canadian government has dangled at international students upon graduation from post-secondary institutions. Succinctly, most international students coming to Canada, come in the hope that after graduation, they might get the opportunity to become Canadian citizens. This is the bait.

Approaching this subject purely in market terms, for a market is what the Canadian immigration system is, the market share that the immigration system in Canada currently enjoys among international students is largely influenced by two factors:

  • Uncontested market share by other post-secondary education net- exporters and,
  • Limited access to market information among buyers.

However, before addressing these issues, it is important to note that Canada does benefit immensely from international student recruitment. According to a Government of Canada website, international students in Canada contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2018 and supported almost 170,000 jobs for Canada’s middle class. The issue is, this revenue and jobs could easily peter out if not carefully attended to.

For context, the demography of international students in Canada has changed over the last decade with international students from India and Nigeria overtaking counterparts from China and South America in terms of numbers. Brexit, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, has however presented a clear and present challenge to Canada’s dominance in international student migration on two grounds; the proximity of India and Nigeria to the UK, and the near-seamless collaboration between the UK Immigration Service and universities to fast-track student visa approvals. Comparatively, the interaction between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Canadian post-secondary institutions has been far from smooth concerning study permit approvals. In real-time, many intending international students have had to defer their admissions this fall, due to this gap.

The other ’cause for pause’ that policymakers in Canada should be considering is the Canadian Pension Plan contribution which is set for a serious hit within the next seventeen years as a sizable chunk of the current Canadian workforce retire. The implications of this might be to enhance international student recruitment and refocus the international student migration pathway to optimize revenues in terms of tuition, taxes and pension contributions from a perspective of the inherent opportunity costs.

Simply put, lowering international student tuition through subsidies might arguably be a way to fend off the encroachment of the United Kingdom into a predominantly Canadian market share of international students from population giants in Asia and Africa, but it is a sure way to guarantee meeting our fiscal policy targets and to prevent a national pension collapse, soon.