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28th Mar 2024

Canada: Ontario’s cap implementation plan allocates nearly all study permit applications to public colleges and universities

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The Province of Ontario hosted just over half of all international students in Canada last year
  • Under Canada’s new cap on international study permits, Ontario has been allocated 235,000 study permit applications for 2024
  • The province has announced that 96% of those study permit applications will be allocated to the public colleges and universities
  • Only 4% will be distributed to the province’s language schools and private universities
  • Career colleges will not be allocated any study permit applications under this plan

On 26 February 2024, the Government of Ontario – Canada's most-populous province and host to just over half of the country's foreign students – announced additional funding of CDN$1.3 billion for the province's public colleges and universities. That new money was meant to help a chronically underfunded public system regain some fiscal ground, and also temper the effect of a continuing freeze on domestic tuition rates.

It turns out, however, that none of that additional spending will be sufficient to offset the financial impact of the cap on study permit applications announced by the Government of Canada on 22 January. Not counting the impact on universities or other segments of the education system, budget documents released in Ontario this week reveal that the cap is projected to reduce revenues to Ontario colleges by more than CDN$3 billion over the 2024/25 and 2025/26 fiscal years.

That troubling financial outlook provides the backdrop for a 27 March announcement, in which the Ontario government released details of how it would implement the cap on study permit applications for 2024 and 2025. And it is fair to say that Ontario's approach is a marked departure from what we have seen in other Canadian provinces so far.

96% to public colleges and universities

Ontario has been allocated 235,000 study permit applications by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) – an amount that is roughly proportional with the province's share of the total Canadian population. The (recent) historical approval rate of 60% would suggest those 235,000 applications would yield something like 141,000 new study permits for cap-affected students in 2024. Keeping in mind that K-12 and master's/doctoral students are exempt from the cap, this could still represent a considerable decrease from the 363,000 new and renewed study permits issued to students in the province in 2023.

The province has announced that it will allocate 96% of that quota to publicly funded colleges and universities. The remaining 4% will be distributed to language schools, private universities and other institutions. However, career colleges will not receive any of the provincial allocation.

Under this approach:

  • 22 of Ontario's 23 universities will be able to lodge the same number of applications as they did in 2023. Only one, Algoma University, will see a decline from its 2023 application volume.
  • 11 of 24 colleges will also maintain applications at 2023 levels. The province says that, "Colleges with public-private college partnerships and Conestoga College will see the largest decline."

The government adds that applications will be allocated to individual colleges and universities based on the following criteria:

  • With priority for programmes in high-demand areas, such as skilled trades, health human resources, STEM, hospitality and child care.
  • Enrolment in French-language programmes in Ontario will also be prioritised.
  • Allocations to individual institutions will not exceed the institution’s 2023 application volumes.
  • "As a final backstop, the ratio of international permits cannot exceed 55% (exclusive of high-demand areas) of the institution’s 2023 first-year domestic enrolment."

“We are protecting the integrity of our province’s postsecondary education system by attracting the best and brightest international students to Ontario to study in areas that are critical to our economy,” said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “We have been working with postsecondary institutions to ensure international students are enrolled in the programmes to support a pipeline of graduates for in-demand jobs.”

The Ontario approach differs sharply from other major host provinces for international students in Canada, most notably British Columbia which split its provincial allocation of study permits roughly equally between public and private institutions.

Early response from stakeholders

“Ontario’s universities acknowledge the provincial government’s decision to maintain international undergraduate student applications at 2023 levels for those postsecondary institutions where international students do not exceed 55% [of first-year domestic enrolment]," said Steve Orsini, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities. "Ontario’s universities have been responsible players in the postsecondary sector, basing international student enrolment on the unique needs and regional labour market demands of local communities."

Colleges Ontario President Marketa Evans added that, "Ontario’s public colleges are pleased the province is allocating 80% of the international study permit applications to the public colleges. This is clear recognition that public college education is essential to ensuring the province has a workforce equipped with the talent and professional expertise to succeed in key sectors."

She added, however, that, "We regret more has not been done to plan for and aid in the financial recovery of the public college sector during this abrupt change. The federal government’s cuts to study permit applications were implemented without any consultation or adjustment period. This has already resulted in the collapse of the spring cohort at public colleges, which represents about 25% of total college enrolment…The consequences include immediate programme suspensions and a pause on capital investments that include investments in student housing. There will be a severe impact on the fall term at public colleges, with revenue losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. No organisation can absorb such losses without significant cuts to operations."

Along with its other Canadian brands, Global University Systems Canada operates a language school, three career colleges, and a private university in Ontario. CEO Cyndi McLeod said, “Yesterday’s announcement by the Ontario Government was in-line with what we expected, but nevertheless, it presents very real challenges for our private colleges as well as the sector as a whole. The fact is, we deliver quality, in-demand programmes for the labour market in Ontario and across Canada. We invest millions into the communities who are home to our institutions, and we deeply believe that we offer a meaningful experience for students." Looking ahead, she added that, "We’ve created an education ecosystem that’s based on student success and I’m confident that together with our partners we will find new strategic opportunities and initiatives to ensure a bright future for our institutions and the students who choose them.”

And, speaking for the province's language training sector, Languages Canada Executive Director Gonzalo Peralta made it clear that the province's current allocation plan is unacceptable to educators in this important education sector.

"We are extremely disappointed with the treatment of language programmes in Canada and Ontario by the federal and Ontario governments. Language programmes were in no way responsible for the unchecked growth in international students in Canada and yet are being penalised more than other segments of education. To receive 2% of the 235,000 allocations in Ontario in spite of being good players in the education ecosystem is a blow to the sector and demonstrates exactly how current government perceives Official Language education and the contribution of private-sector members that for decades have contributed to supporting and advancing the quality of education in Ontario and to the economy. The decision is so short sighted it is flabbergasting."

"There is no way that Languages Canada or our members will sit still and accept the decision as it stands," he added. "Everything will be done to obtain an adjustment that affords our members the opportunity to exercise their right to work and to contribute to Canadian society as they have done for decades. Our job at this time is to demonstrate to [Ontario] Premier Ford how language students in pathway programmes to universities and colleges actually improve Ontario’s bottom line and to [IRCC] Minister Miller how this particular segment of students, in learning our Official Languages and way of life, are so much better prepared for their academic pursuits."

PAL details to follow

The 27 March announcement did not offer much detail on Ontario's provincial attestation letter (PAL) process, noting only that, "Most international students seeking to study in Ontario must provide a provincial letter of attestation with their study permit application. This letter serves as proof that the applicant has been accounted for within the maximum allocations set by the federal government. To acquire an attestation letter to study in Ontario, students should contact their admissions office at the Ontario postsecondary institution where they have accepted their offer of admission and intend to enrol."

For additional background, please see:

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