Magazines 2024 Mar - Apr Cap on international students hits Christian universities

Cap on international students hits Christian universities

19 April 2024 By John Longhurst

A decision by the Canadian government to limit the number of international students coming to Canada to study is affecting many Christian colleges and universities. A report by John Longhurst, now updated after an interview with Trinity Western U.

A decision by the Canadian government to limit the number of international students coming to Canada to study is affecting many Christian colleges and universities in the country.

As a result of the decision – made out of concern about the housing crisis in Canada – only 292,000 international undergraduate students will be permitted to study here next year, a drop from 404,668 last year. The cap does not affect graduate students.

B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. will all see a reduction in the number of permits for international undergraduate students, while other provinces will see increases. It is up to provincial governments to decide how many international students each school in their province can invite.

Many Christian colleges and universities are seeing the number of international students they can invite fall. Added to the challenge is that only about 50 to 60 per cent of invited students are able to follow through on their acceptance letters, often due to visa problems or a change of plans.

Providence and Booth feel the loss

One hard-hit school is Providence University College, which has campuses in Otterburne, Man., and Winnipeg.

Providence, which has 461 international students in undergraduate programs at both locations in the current academic year, had plans to greatly expand its course offerings to students from other countries at a new campus in downtown Winnipeg. But now it can only send invitation letters to 37 students for 2024-25.

The cut “means we will no longer be able to serve international undergraduate students in the city of Winnipeg,” says president Kenton Anderson, adding Providence had planned to grow its international student population to about 1,000 students living and studying downtown. But now that plan “is no longer viable,” he says, adding the decrease will “create a massive financial hole for us.”

To deal with the financial impact of the decision, the school will immediately shift to offering graduate level programming for international students. “We are hopeful that by making the necessary adjustments we can flourish in this new regulatory environment,” Anderson says.

Since the cap on international students includes Americans, that will also have a big impact since Providence views nearby North Dakota and Minnesota as prime locations for student recruitment. “Now that is not possible for us,” he says.

Also hit hard is Booth University College, which currently has 98 international students at its campus in Winnipeg. Next year, it will only be able to invite 14 foreign students – which president Rob Fringer describes as “a devastating blow and will cripple us or worse.”

Since Booth is the only degree granting postsecondary institution of The Salvation Army in the world, “it would be a huge loss” to that church if the school was forced to cut programs or even close, he says.

Others see projected growth disappear

Other schools impacted by the decision include Briercrest College in Caronport, Sask. While that school isn't reliant on international students, it had hoped to grow that number, says Angela Lim, director of international students.

Briercrest, which currently has nine international students, will be allowed to invite 11 for the next academic year. “We are disappointed by the constraints hindering our efforts,” she says, adding “over the past three years, we've worked to expand opportunities for international students, but we are now facing limitations that impede our anticipated growth.”

Crandall University in Moncton will be allowed to invite 51 foreign students for the upcoming academic year. For Chris Robb, vice president for enrollment management, this is disappointing since the school had also hoped to grow the number of international students in its undergraduate programs.

“The cap will certainly impact the opportunities for growth in that area,” he says.

Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont. will be able to issue 16 letters of invitation to international undergraduate students, a slight decrease from previous years.

“Redeemer has been careful about international recruitment, understanding the significant resources needed to care for and support these students well,” says Shannon McBride, communications manager.

At the same time, since international students pay more than Canadian students for tuition, they “account for an important portion of overall revenue,” she says.

Lumping US with international a problem

Kingswood University in Sussex, N.B., was initially allocated only seven invitation letters to international students, but was able to get that increased to 27.

“Our biggest problem now is that U.S. students are included in these international numbers,” says president Stephen Lennox. “We should have enough letters for those who want to come, but the new process is much more onerous than previously.”

In the past, he says, it was relatively easy for American students to come. Now they have to provide proof they have access to one year's tuition and living expenses – over $36,000. “We're concerned that because of the extra requirements, U.S. students who would have come to Kingswood will go elsewhere,” he says.

Not only does that hurt the school’s revenue stream, “it also jeopardizes our standing with our sponsoring denomination, The Wesleyan Church,” Lennox says, noting they provide significant financial support so the school can train ministers from across North America.

Without that support, “we would struggle to survive,” he says.

TWU has mixed response [TWU section added April 29]

The federal government’s decision to cap the number of international students studying in Canada over the next two years will affect Trinity Western University, but “not dramatically,” according to president and chancellor Mark Husbands.

The school, located in Langley, B.C., will be allowed to issue 515 letters of invitation to international students for the 2024-25 academic year, he says.

“It will have a financial impact,” he says, adding “it will not be insignificant.” According to the school’s website, 35 percent of the school’s 5,000 students (graduate and undergraduate) come from other countries.

Husbands estimates the cap could result in two to three percent fewer undergraduate students next academic year. “The decision is regrettable since fewer international students will be able to attend our school,” he says.

On average, only 50 to 60 percent of international students invited to study at a Canadian university or college follow end up following through on their plans to study at those schools, due to a change of plans or visa issues, although Husbands says the average at TWU is higher.

As a result, recruiters at TWU will have to work hard to ensure there is a good fit when issuing invitations to potential international students, he says, noting that if a student doesn’t come after receiving a letter of invitation it can’t be used for other students. “There will need to be deeper and more concentrated recruitment efforts,” Husbands says.

At the same time, he is not critical of the B.C. government, which was responsible for implementing the cap in the province. “I feel the government had a reasonable rationale based on three-year rolling average for schools,” he says.

While concerned about the impact of the decision on TWU, Husbands is also concerned about how it will impact other Christian college and universities in Canada. “I feel anxious and nervous for smaller Canadian Christian schools,” he says.

He is also concerned about what it will mean for students from other countries. “I grieve that fewer international students will be able to have a transformative experience at a Canadian Christian university or college,” he says.

Finally, he worries about the negative message the decision sends about Canada as a place of study. “It’s a global competitive landscape for international students,” he says.

Others experience little impact

One school that will not feel much impact from the federal government’s limit is Tyndale University in Toronto. The school, which has 14 international students, doesn’t expect “any real effect” from the limit.

It will “impede our plans to grow in this area,” says Kevin Kirk, senior vice president for external relations, but the 23 letters of invitation the school can issue is “about the same as in the past few years,” he says.

International student recruitment has not been a major focus of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, so the school will not be severely impacted by the cap, says president Cheryl Pauls.

The school will be permitted to issue 44 letters of invitation to international students next year, compared to about 75 in previous years.

The reduction also won’t have a big impact on the Steinbach, Man. Bible College, which will be permitted to send out 15 letters of invitation to international students. This year the school had nine international students.

Ambrose University College in Calgary will actually see a slight increase in the number of international students it can invite due to an increase in the overall number given to the province by the federal government.

“The cap is a concern to us, but not an overwhelming concern,” says Pamela Nordstrom, provost and senior vice president, noting that the school doesn’t count on tuition from international students for a large part of its revenue.

Christian colleges and universities send letter to federal government about international student numbers

The presidents of 22 Canadian Christian colleges and universities sent a letter to Marc Miller, Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, expressing their concern over limits on the number of international students permitted to study in the country.

In the letter, sent April 4, the presidents acknowledged there have been problems with the study permit program for international students and that the federal government needed to address it.

But the decision to reduce the number of international students coming to Canada will create “significant challenges” for many of their institutions, the presidents say.

Of major concern for the schools is that the cap on international students also applies to Americans. Since some serve denominations on both sides of the border, “this decision prevents us from carrying out our mission,” the letter says.

As well, since many of the schools provide theological education for people preparing for ministry in other countries, the decision will prevent them from alleviating “the pastoral leadership deficit in churches around the world.”

The signers go on to ask for an exemption from the limit on international students for those who are preparing for church ministry, along with students from the U.S.

The letter was sent with assistance by Christian Higher Education Canada, an umbrella organization for 33 Canadian Christian colleges and universities.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: A letter from The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada making similar requests was sent Apr. 24.

John Longhurst is a religion reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press and the digital organization

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