issues for int’l students remain despite plans to reopen borders

In a wide-ranging discussion on international education positioning and policy in Canada, panellists explored international student application numbers, the opening of borders, postgraduate work and student safety. 

“There’s been tremendous collaboration with stakeholders right across the country”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recently announced that international students will be able to enter Canada from October 20. 

Speaking about the opening of borders, Larissa Bezo, president and CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, said the issue of travel restrictions for international students “has been a big advocacy piece in our sector for a number of months”.

“There’s been tremendous collaboration with stakeholders right across the country,” she said. 

Bezo explained that institutions have been working with provinces and territories to form readiness plans to bring back students. 

Conditions for plans have been established across public health authorities on a federal, provincial, municipal level in Canada. As a result, public health measures are implemented differently across the country. 

“So those readiness plans can be quite unique from one institution to another, although there are some basic thematic threads that apply to all of them, in terms of safety, in terms of preparedness to support students to the federal quarantine requirements upon arrival,” said Bezo. 

Bezo told the panel that once institutions have been approved they will be added to a list that will be updated in a “dynamic fashion” by IRCC. That information will begin to be published from October 20. 

“Not all the readiness plans and institutions will be ready from day one but we expect it will be an evolving and dynamic list that will be updated as the situation unfolds across the country,” she continued. 

However, Martin Basiri, CEO of ApplyBoard explained that IRCC’s change in policy did not fully resolve the situation. 

“We have to remember that the majority of students coming into Canada right now, especially for the college sector, are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam,” he said. 

“The majority of them are required to do their IELTS exam or TOEFL exam and these centres are closed or they are running at 25% to 30% capacity.

Also, the consulates are closed and the VACs are closed. So basically this [lifting of restrictions] has almost no impact.”

Panellists also discussed the impact of Covid-19 on Canadian institutions.

Cath D’Amico, president of Languages Canada and director international at Trent University told delegates that 23 LC programs have closed down since March 2020.

D’Amico called the loss of programs “devastating.” 

These are programs that are owned by Canadians with families and employees and students.

“Language is something that is often best learned in an immersion environment, so coming to Canada and getting a Canadian cultural and language experience is the optimal way to learn,” she said. 

“For small programs that were unable to bring students in and who were maybe not able to pivot quickly and offer technical solutions to the delivery of their programs, they just weren’t able to survive,” she added. 

For those institutions that have weathered the storm caused by Covid-19, the question of how many students will enrol in programs is likely to be in the minds of many institutions. 

The panellists discussed international student application numbers and what the key factors were in the decision-making process of students. 

Basiri said ApplyBoard data showed that the universities that were most responsive saw the least declines in student applications. 

“Some schools have done way better than other schools… The schools which were fast in multiple things, they had the lowest decline,” he said. 

Basiri explained that there was a correlation between “how fast in returning emails and responding to inquiries” an institution was and their application numbers. 

Historically if a school is not responsive, then during the pandemic they have had the biggest problems,” Basiri said.

He explained that how quickly a school returned fees to students in previous semesters was also a factor. 

“For example if [students] wanted to cancel or if they [faced] visa rejection, before the pandemic- if it was anything over five weeks, they have seen the biggest decline in the number of applications.”

According to Basiri the schools that have recovered are the ones that have offered online experiential activities, such as yoga classes, they have seen the highest and fastest recovery. 

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