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Conestoga president says college is not a 'bad actor' in sector

Responding to the pending federal cap on international students, John Tibbits says decision should have been phased in over time and done with consultation
Conestoga College president John Tibbits speaks to media at a federal announcement in this file photo.

A letter from Conestoga College president John Tibbits, distributed to staff of the college Feb. 2 and posted on the Conestoga website today, addresses the federal government's cap on international students and says Canada's reputation as a destination for post-secondary education is threatened.

Last month federal immigration minister Marc Miller announced a two-year nation wide cap on international students starting in September.

The cap aims to reduce international student permits across Canada by an overall 35 per cent to around 360,000 and will have an even larger impact in Ontario where it's expected to reduce permits by about 50 per cent.

Conestoga College admitted close to 30,000 international students last year alone. 

In an early response to the feds' announcement, Conestoga released a statement saying it worries the timelines are too short to engage in the kind of meaningful consultation it needs and that the abrupt change has caused a "great deal of uncertainty" within the school as the fall 2024 recruitment is already well underway.

In his letter, Tibbits says the full impact of the federal government’s cap on international students remains unknown, "but we can say with certainty that we have been unfairly grouped with what the government and other critics refer to as 'bad actors in the sector.'"

"We agree that changes need to be made, especially in relation to private colleges, but the federal government’s decision should have been phased in over time and done in consultation," he writes. 

"Instead, Canada’s reputation as a destination for post-secondary education is threatened. The recent changes are not helpful for students trying to apply to Canada and contribute to our economy, and there will be an impact on employers attempting to hire qualified personnel.

"We have also received queries about the provincial government’s announcement on January 26 introducing new measures to protect students. Conestoga will support these measures. We are already meeting housing needs, we are already ensuring student supports, and we are already delivering quality programming."

Immediately on the heels of last month's federal announcement, the province said it would place its own restrictions on colleges and universities with sizable foreign student populations.

The changes include reviewing programs post-secondary schools offer international students, ensuring programs meet the needs of the labour market, and putting a moratorium on new public college-private partnerships until oversight mechanisms are strengthened.

New measures will also require all colleges and universities to have guaranteed housing options for incoming international students. 

In response, Tibbits said domestic tuition was cut by 10 per cent by the province four years ago and has been frozen ever since.

"Ontario’s tuition is now among the lowest in Canada and infrastructure funding has not been available. It would be nearly impossible to manage the college effectively on domestic tuition and grants to meet the needs of employers for a skilled workforce, especially in a region that is growing economically."

Tibbits said Conestoga has also never contracted curriculum to private colleges like others have, and instead "have taken on financial risks ourselves by investing our revenues in our own communities."

Overall, Conestoga graduates contribute about $6.2 billion to the Ontario economy every year, Tibbits states in the letter.

Read the full letter HERE