Should Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions Compete For Foreign Students?

Should Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions Compete For Foreign Students?

The following is a slightly-edited version of some comments made on the foreign student issue by Jessica Vaughan, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. Her observations refer to several aspects of the foreign student issue. One of her more shocking revelations is that, contrary to public knowledge, most post-secondary institutions do not charge foreign students the full cost of the education the students receive. As Ms. Vaughan notes, the subsidy for both U.S. and foreign graduate students, according to one major U.S. study, averages around $37,000 per year.

Ms. Vaughan points out that George Borjas, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, had uncovered similar information several years ago. However, the discovery seems to have been ignored or not to have spread to many post-secondary institutions, most of which continue to claim that the fees that foreign students pay, provide more than adequate compensation for the education provided.

Similar figures undoubtedly apply in Canada which takes more than 130,000 foreign students per year. Since this matter involves public money being diverted from Canadian students to foreign students, it deserves serious attention. It probably deserves even more concern because most of the major post-secondary institutions in Canada are publicly-owned and financed. In other words, chances of public fund diversion are even greater in Canada. Here, many of these institutions also justify their foreign recruitment by saying that the extra fees paid by foreign students provide desperately-needed revenue for the institutions.

In Ms. Vaughan's report, she too makes the damning social point that publicly-funded post-secondary institutions have to give priority to the needy students in their own areas. Where a limited number of student seats are available, foreign students should not be displacing local students.

Currently, Canada's Department of Citizenship and Immigration allows foreign students who graduate from four year programmes to work for one year in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The Department allows similar foreign students who are willing to live in other areas of Canada to work there for two years. Students who have graduated from eight-month programmes are allowed to work in Canada for eight months.

Recently, Canada's Immigration Minister, Diane Finley, announced that her department is thinking of allowing foreign students, who have completed their studies in Canada, to apply for immigration status in Canada, rather than apply outside Canada. Ms. Finley should note that the race to import foreign students (and the pressure to keep them here) resembles the stampede to import foreign workers. Her priority, in both cases, should be fairness to Canadians. She should be skeptical of publicly-paid, ego-driven post-secondary (particularly university) administrators who are intent on expanding their empires at the expense of Canadians.

For example, Ms. Finley should take, with a grain of salt, the claims by some university administrators in Canada's largest immigrant-receiving areas such as Metro Vancouver, that foreign students provide “cultural diversity”. If ever she needed an example of anyone advocating that “coal be carried to Newcastle”, this is it. The damage that such administrators have done to the lives of Canadian students in their areas has yet to be calculated.

If Ms. Finley and her staff are unaware of the fraud that journalists have exposed at a number of private post-secondary schools, they should do some homework. They should know that the foreign student programme has been used as an alternative immigration system and another illegal door into Canada.

If ever Canada needed an Immigration Minister to stand against unnecessary immigration and to do something significant for Canada, it is now. In the past, Canadians have seen too much of Immigration Ministers who thought that their three sole
purposes in life were (1) to appear for photo-opportunities with Canada's immigration industry ; (2) to satisfy the immigration
industry's every desire ; and (3) to make cliched comments at Citizenship ceremonies.


The following are many of the thoughts Jessica Vaughan provided in an on-line debate sponsored by The Economist. The debate resolution was:

Governments and universities everywhere should compete to attract qualified students, regardless of nationality or residence.

“At first glance, this (resolution) looks like a no-brainer. Few American higher educational institutions would be caught dead these days without a foreign student recruiting program. Many of these schools consider access to foreign students to be a government entitlement, if not a God-given right. But the proposition is flawed in two ways. First, not all colleges and universities are alike they serve different populations and have different educational missions, so what works for one may not for the other. Secondly, while I would agree that the governments should do all they can to foster academic excellence and the free exchange of ideas, and attracting the best and the brightest from around the world is part of that, they must balance this worthy goal with their responsibility to ensure the security of the homeland. That requires saying no to some people.

“Top-notch U.S. schools have long prided themselves on their ability to attract talented students from abroad; years ago they competed more with each other for the foreign student market share than against schools in other countries. And no wonder not only do foreign students bring brains and cultural interest to American campuses, they also can be charged higher tuition. To qualify for a visa, foreign students must show they can finance their degree, and at the undergraduate level they usually pay thousands of dollars more in tuition than U.S. students. As the higher education marketplace has become more competitive over the years, due to changing demographics and pressure to upgrade facilities and technology while offering more and more financial assistance, even less selective schools have gotten into the act in an effort to boost tuition revenue.

“Whats the downside? There isnt one, say representatives of the higher education industry. The Institute for International Education claims that foreign students and their families contribute about $13 billion annually to the U.S. economy. But this analysis is too simplistic, relying on generalizations about the actual tuition paid by foreign students and ignoring the cost of government subsidies that go to all students in public and private schools. IIEs own data show that 11 percent of foreign undergraduate students and 47 percent of foreign graduate students are supported primarily by the host college or university with scholarships, tuition waivers, employment, or fellowships. No student, foreign or local, pays enough in tuition to cover the actual cost of the education — all college and university students are subsidized by taxpayers. Harvard University economist George Borjas reports that the average per-student subsidy may reach $6,400 in private universities and $9,200 in public universities, totaling several billion dollars per year.

“…the financial case for foreign student recruitment has not been proven. I have yet to see a comprehensive analysis for any country that accounts for the cost of hosting these same students, whether in the form of support staff at host schools, scholarships, or, most importantly, public subsidies. The closest example I know of is a 2006 study by the (U.S.) National Academies of Science which found that, in the United States, at the graduate level, foreign and domestic students at public and private schools pay an average of $8,070 per year while receiving $37,234 in support. While there may be intangible benefits in terms of innovation and exceptional contributions from some foreign students, there is no financial benefit to hosting foreign students at the graduate level. I suspect that the debits may be less for undergraduate students because they use fewer stipends and grants, but there are still public subsidies involved.

“The IIE (Institute for International Education) also leaves out any accounting of the resources schools must devote to staff and programs to help foreign students become acclimatized and navigate in their new surroundings.

“Community colleges and small state colleges especially should resist the lure of the foreign student market. The admission of large numbers of foreign students to community colleges around the country is a dramatic departure from their long-established mission to serve the needs of local non-traditional students, those who lack the resources or time to commit to a four-year program, and those seeking vocational or non-degree programs.

“These schools are heavily subsidized by local taxpayers so the programs are accessible to all members of the community and can contribute to their self-sufficiency and upward mobility. Many community and state colleges play a vital role in the local economy, serving as small business incubators or offering specialized training to fill the needs of local employers, such as hospitals or technology companies. It is doubtful that taxpayers in these towns would support extending these subsidies to foreign students, who traditionally have been expected to pay their own way. In addition, it makes little sense to provide job training or internships to foreign students who might displace locals from these opportunities.

“Espionage is also a concern, both for the government and for any business with foreign competitors. As far back as 1996, the FBI has been warning Congress that other nations were using foreign students as spies: Countries recruit students before they come to the United States to study and task them to send any technological information they acquire back to their home country. . . . Upon completion of their studies, some foreign students are then encouraged to seek employment with U.S. firms to steal proprietary information. (testimony of then-FBI director Louis Freeh).

“Obviously not all foreign students are spies or terrorists, and most governments recognize the invaluable public diplomacy and good will that can be accomplished through admitting foreign students. The important point is that international student recruitment should not be pursued blindly, oblivious to an individual schools mission and public accountability, or indifferent to the security of all.”