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Impact of new international student cap on West Kootenay colleges unclear

Selkirk College’s president says Lower Mainland institutions are more likely to see cuts
Selkirk College’s nearly complete student housing building at its Silver King Campus in Nelson. The college’s president says she doesn’t yet know how many international students will be prevented from attending due to new federal rules. Photo: Tyler Harper

The head of Selkirk College says a new federal cap on international students may not have much of an impact on the West Kootenay’s biggest post-secondary institution.

On Jan. 22, Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced the number of student visas in Canada will be reduced by 35 per cent, or approximately 360,000 study permits, for 2024.

The change includes public institutions such as Selkirk College, but is meant to target private post-secondary colleges that Miller says are exploiting international students with high tuition increase without providing quality education or proper supports.

Selkirk president Maggie Matear said the college won’t likely know until the end of February how many students it will lose as part of the federal government’s two-year restriction on student visas. But she doubts public institutions will face restrictions to the degree that are imposed on private colleges.

“The public colleges are actually pretty good at providing good support systems and transparency, and quality education for international students,” she said.

“There are a few bad actors I think that have led to the recent cap that the federal government has imposed. I know the province is working really hard on trying to figure out what that’s going to look like for us.”

Selkirk College has approximately 750 international students enrolled at its main campuses in Castlegar and Nelson, as well as satellite sites in Trail, Grand Forks, Nakusp and Kaslo.

That cohort is mostly spread out among the college’s programs, with the exception of some post-graduate programs exclusive to international students.

Matear said that should keep the college from having to close classes for lack of students. Selkirk, she said, has never had to limit its intake of international applicants because those students are mostly headed to programs in Victoria or the Lower Mainland.

B.C. has the second highest number of international students in Canada with about 175,000, of whom 82,000 attend public institutions. Miller said caps for provinces and territories will vary depending on students per capita.

“There’s always a certain amount of unpredictability around what enrolment is going to be not only for international but also for domestic. So we’re incorporating some of those scenarios in our budget planning for next year.”

The cap, which will be reassessed at the end of the year, does not apply to elementary or high school students, nor will it impact people in masters or doctoral programs. It also does not include students applying for study permit renewals, or current permit holders.

Smaller private colleges however may struggle with the cap, even if they don’t rely on international students.

Bisman Arora is vice president of the Nelson-based Kootenay Columbia College of Integrative Health Sciences, which has approximately 100 students enrolled a variety of programs including massage therapy, holistic nutrition and social service.

Arora said the immigration ministry is unfairly lumping colleges who work within the rules together with those that don’t. The stigma of that will have consequences for her students.

“This is going to impact domestic students, our stakeholders, our employers. It doesn’t end at international students. Next time we go to approach an employer to take our students on co-op or practicum, even if it’s a domestic students, there’s this generalization of the certain terminology that was used. Those employers are going to now have a question mark.”

Arora said the federal government held no consultations with colleges prior to the announcement. She also criticized the plan for not being packaged with new student housing initiatives.

Her school, she said, shouldn’t be treated the same as larger institutions.

“We’re much more small and nimble. We cater to one student at a time, our student body isn’t large enough, so absolutely the priorities will need to be different.”

Matear welcomed the scrutiny on how international students are treated by colleges. She said Selkirk works with reputable agents and tries to provide enough information to students before they arrive so there are no surprises.

The college is nearing completion of a 112-bed student housing building in at its Castlegar campus as well as a 36-unit project at the Silver King Campus in Nelson.

Matear said the college prioritizes classroom diversity, and hopes to keep seeing international students choose Selkirk.

“For us, it’s not really the number so much as the contributions that they bring to the classroom and to faculty and to the college community at large.”


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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