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Peterborough City Hall on the evening of January 29th, 2024. Photo by Abbigale Kernya.

City Council Motion Urges Federal, Provincial Governments to Rethink Post-Secondary Policies, Trent Defends "Moderate" Enrolment Growth

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
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February 2, 2024

Last updated February 3rd, 2024 at 8:37 AM.

City Council Motion Urges Federal, Provincial Governments to Rethink Post-Secondary Policies, Trent Defends "Moderate" Enrolment Growth
Peterborough City Hall on the evening of January 29th, 2024. Photo by Abbigale Kernya.

Peterborough City Councillors will vote on a notice of motion concerning the recently introduced cap on international study permits by the federal government. The motion will call on the Provincial Government to implement the recommendations for ensuring the sustainability of post-secondary education in Ontario by a Blue-Ribbon Panel which were published in November of 2023. 

On January 22nd, Minister of Immigration and Refugees, Marc Miller announced that the government would be reducing the number of international study permits for post-secondary undergraduate programs across Canada by 35 per cent beginning in September, 2024.

The total number of permits are anticipated to be 364,000 in the fall of this year and will be distributed among the provinces based on population. As a result, institutions in Ontario are  anticipating nearly a 50% reduction in the number of permits due to the higher percentage of international students already studying in the province, Miller explained.   

Miller also outlined changes to the ability of graduates from certain programs under private-public partnerships to apply for post-graduate work permits. 

The motion, moved by Mayor Jeff Leal and set to be voted on by Council on February 5th directly calls on the federal government to “reconsider its recent policy changes and specifically exempt public-private partner institutions from being excluded in offering students who successfully complete their program of study a Post-Graduate Work Permit.”

Additionally, the motion cites Fleming College’s involvement with Global University Systems through Fleming College Toronto which, it suggests, “contributes $26 million annually in net revenue to Fleming College, money that is invested locally for students and our community.”

Fleming College Toronto is one of six institutions in Canada that is partnered with Global University Systems through the network's Canadian subsidiary, Global University Systems Canada. The college, which maintains a midtown Toronto Campus, is one of two private-public partnerships under the purview of Global University Systems Canada.

Under this partnership, Fleming College Toronto is partnered with the Toronto-based Trebas Institute and offers certificate programs primarily related to business and management as well as a personal support worker certificate program.

The Mayor’s motion clarifies outstanding questions regarding what this cap might mean for the broader Peterborough community and how Council sees its role within this ongoing and evolving story.

A second motion for consideration by Council and moved by Councillor Dave Haacke outlines Council's recognition of the economic impact on Peterborough this decision by the federal government may have while also calling for the implementation of the Blue-Ribbon Panel recommendations.

“The flow of international students is anticipated to be drastically reduced as a result of these changes, which would have a direct, negative impact on the local Peterborough economy,”  the motion states.

Haacke's motion also notes that “Trent University is one of the largest employers in the region and contributes approximately 10% of the local GDP” and suggests that Trent “has taken a measured and sustainable approach to increasing international enrolment.” 

No one from Trent has been available to speak directly to the media, however, on February 1st, Trent President, Leo Groarke wrote to staff at the university in order to address the federal government’s announcement. 

In his email, Groarke stated that “the implications of the new cap will not be clear until we know more about the system that will be used to determine the number of international students who come to Trent.” 

“We are well positioned to manage, though our approach will need to respond to government decisions which have not yet been finalized,” Groarke’s message continued. 

The 70 page Blue-Ribbon Panel Report referred to by the City’s motion calls for an immediate 5 per cent increase in College and University tuition in 2024, with an option for institutions to further raise tuition for a small number of professional programs by 3 per cent over the same time frame.

Domestic student tuition in Ontario was reduced by 10% and then frozen in 2019 by the Ford government, while institutions retained the ability to increase international student tuition year over year. Over the past two academic years, Trent University has increased tuition by 8% per year for incoming students. 

International undergraduate students who began in September of 2024 are expected to pay $28,286 while those taking a post-graduate certificate program will pay $20,066.  

The report, which included input from former Trent President and Vice-Chancellor, Bonnie M. Patterson, has been a topic of discussion at recent open sessions of Trent’s Board of Governors, though it is unclear to what extent Trent is advocating for the implementation of its recommendations.

During a February 2nd Board of Governors meeting, the report was mentioned solely in the context of awaiting the government’s response. Meanwhile, in recent days, Premier Doug Ford has publicly affirmed that he and his government do not foresee allowing post-secondary institutions to raise domestic student tuition for the upcoming 2024/25 academic year.

Groarke’s statement to staff and faculty at Trent also outlined the school’s “moderate” increases to international student enrolment while noting it “has been a responsible player in the postsecondary sector.” 

“Our approach to international enrolment is measured and sustainable, and is designed in a way that takes into account the unique needs of our communities and the demands of our regional labour markets,” he wrote.

Over the course of Groarke’s tenure as President, the number of international students studying at Trent has increased from 589 in 2016 to 2799 in 2023. Over the same period, the total number of international students in Canada has nearly tripled from 352,325 to 1,023,850, effectively meaning Trent’s rate of international growth has been nearly double that of the national average over the past eight years.

Data and chart provided by Trent University.

The Blue-Ribbon Panel report notes that in 2021, 31 per cent of tuition revenue in Ontario came from international students while only 17.5 per cent came from domestic students. 

“Panel members acknowledge the risks associated with a strong dependence on international students,” the report notes while noting the strategies universities have largely implemented instead of engaging in private-public partnerships such as satellite campuses like Trent’s Durham campus and its recent expansion into downtown Oshawa which the report notes will “predominantly serve international students.”

“We encourage discussions between the ministry and postsecondary institutions that include a comprehensive review of institutional plans for any further international enrolment expansion,” the report continues later on. “Discussions with the college and university sectors should pay close attention to making sure institutions and communities are ready, willing, and able to welcome and accommodate international students.” 

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