Douglas Todd: The hidden cost of foreign-student policy

Some valid points regarding the rise of international students and their impact although the healthcare costs are likely grossly inflated: using the provincial average is not appropriate for young age cohort that tend to have fewer healthcare needs.

And the concern about slipping standards is more anecdote based without hard data to back this up:

Although unheeded by politicians, Knight and Altbach say Western foreign-student programs have lost their humanitarian ideals, grown into a giant business and now largely draw second-tier students, many of whom struggle with new languages.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University political science professor Shinder Purewal and Patrick Feeney, a B.C.-based education professor now at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, add to such warnings about the hidden costs of Canada’s foreign student policy.

While both scholars support foreign student programs, they fear they’ve mushroomed out of control. Canadians, the scholars say, need to be aware of the disguised burden on taxpayers. Purewal and Feeney also say academic standards are declining in many classrooms.

Working independently, Purewal and Feeney reveal there have been significant repercussions as the ratio of foreign students at B.C.’s two leading universities, UBC and SFU, has grown to one in four, with by far the largest cohort from Mainland China.

Even though the portion of foreign students at suburban Vancouver’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University is one in eight (almost half the foreign students are South Asian), internal documents show that Kwantlen recently paid more than $300,000 to student-recruiting agents in India.

To further illustrate how massive the industry has become, Purewal said Metro Vancouver is home to more than 150 private colleges and universities that cater almost exclusively to foreign students. He calls them “drive-thru institutions, basically two-room colleges.”

What are the hidden financial costs of Canada’s foreign-student policies?

Purewal, who is also a registered immigration consultant, says Canadians are not aware that the more than 300,000 foreign students in the country at any one time receive provincial taxpayer-funded health care.

The foreign students — as well as their spouses and children — have their doctor and hospital visits paid for by Canadian taxpayers, even though they have not contributed to the universal health care program.

With B.C. home to 110,000 foreign students, and the average resident using up almost $6,000 a year in medical expenses, Purewal calculated “the cost could be up $635 million” to the province’s health care system, not including spouses and children (who are also allowed free public-school educations).

“While the post-secondary institutions earn more tuition money, the Canadian taxpayers foot the bill for their health costs,” said Purewal, who has served as a citizenship court judge, where he’s seen how Canadian policy also favours foreign students as future immigrants.

Many foreign students and especially their spouses also seize on the option to work while in Canada, often full-time, says Purewal, echoing a new trend discovered by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

In many cases, Purewal believes, Canadian bosses prefer to hire foreign students or their spouses. “You can exploit them to bone. They are not going to talk about labour standards. They can’t complain. Employers are happy with this system.”

What’s happening in higher education itself?

Purewal and Feeney are skeptical about the mantra from administrators and politicians that foreign students do not take the seats of domestic students.

The two academics maintain that, since government funding for higher education is declining, the money available to create seats for domestic students is also, in effect, declining. Domestic student enrolment in classrooms is capped.

Former UBC president Stephen Toope is among those who have said B.C. government funding for university students has been cut almost in half from its high in the 1970s, when it covered 70 per cent of per capita costs.

Purewal says the competition between domestic and foreign students becomes particularly keen in winning coveted spots in masters or PhD programs, which are small, with varied selection criteria.

Purewal also maintains universities are not asking most foreign students in Canada, who typically pay anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 a year in fees, to pay their own way in full.

Their fees do not finance infrastructure, he said. If foreign students had to completely make up for the taxpayer money that has gone into constructing UBC, SFU or Kwantlen, Purewal estimated their fees would have to double or triple.

The quality of education is also declining in many university and college classrooms, says Feeney.

Source: Douglas Todd: The hidden cost of foreign-student policy | Vancouver Sun


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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