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New rules for international students will change the landscape for local colleges

Conestoga College welcomed nearly 30,000 international students in 2022 and increased profits by over $137 million
Students enter Conestoga College's Doon campus in Kitchener.

The federal government passed new rules for international students last week that will require them to have more money in their bank accounts before coming to Canada. 

The changes will require students coming from other countries to prove they have at least $20,635 in their banks as opposed to the $10,000 they were previously required to have. 

Cambridge MP Bryan May said these changes are to reflect the actual cost of living in Canada and to prevent international students from coming to Canada then be unable to support themselves. 

"What we have to do is truly demonstrate that these students are financially prepared to come to Canada and not be here having to work 40 hours a week, just to sustain themselves," said May. 

Over the past several months, stories have started to come out of students travelling to Canada to study and ending up packed in bedrooms, unable to feed themselves and having to access food banks and other social services. 

Conestoga College has been one of the country's main destinations for international students, welcoming well over 20,000 students in 2022 alone. 

In conversations with Conestoga, May was told the number is closer to 30,000 new international students enroled across their eight campuses. 

According to the college's annual report for 2022-23, Conestoga had 42,000 full-time students, more than double the amount from 2020.

That number would put the number of international students at 71 per cent. But May thinks this number, when including students who are already attending the school, could be closer to 80 per cent. 

The report also reveals that Conestoga's revenue from tuition fees in 2023 was $389,238,232, up over $109 million from the previous year.

The school's total revenue increased over $137 million year over year. 

It's no secret that educational institutions make more money off international students, May said, but he thinks Conestoga should not be lumped in with so called "puppy mill" schools that have been found across the country. 

The upcoming changes will take affect for study permits received by the government on or after Jan. 1, 2024. Enrolment and revenue is expected to drop for these schools as the financial requirements become more strict. 

"Conestoga supports the new cost-of-living financial requirement for international students. We believe it will set students up for greater success while they are studying in the communities we serve," said Conestoga spokesperson Brenda Bereczki.

She acknowledges that these changes will impact student numbers at the school, but maintains Conestoga's ongoing priority will be to support the students they have on campus by continuing to offer housing, food, wellness and employment.

Currently, the college only has 900 residential units available for students, a number May thinks is way too low for a school of its size. While there are vacancies at the residences, many international students say they are unable to afford them. 

"I was trying to explain to them they have vacancies, because these students are coming here without the means to live. They have to focus on their studies, they have to work full time, and they have to find cheaper accommodations than what the college is offering," he added. 

"You've got nearly 30,000 students, even if every single unit of your housing was for international students, you'd still have over 29,000 students without accommodations, so we can take care of maybe a fraction of these students. It's not enough," May said. 

These changes won't stop incoming students from fraudulently passing off their bank accounts as having enough money, a practice both Conestoga and May are familiar with. 

Students were reportedly getting loans to show the school and the government that they have the required amount in their account and then paying off the loans immediately and arriving in Canada with little to no money. 

May thinks this problem will continue to happen, but it will help those that are coming here in good faith be prepared for what living in Canada is like. 

"International students should not be vilified and made scapegoats for issues that are happening here in Canada. They contribute to our economy, to our culture and the institutions themselves," he said.

"We just simply need to make sure that they're safe, that they're able to afford to come here and that the institutions are prepared to to be responsible for the care and well being of the students and not just their diplomas or the degrees."